The Government has said it wants to “enable families to share caring roles more easily and equitably to deliver positive employment outcomes,” however the Fathers and the Workplace Report, published last week by the Women and Equalities Committee (“the Committee”), has found that there still needs to be a cultural change for fathers to feel comfortable in requesting flexible working. Even the Government itself has admitted to the inquiry that its flagship shared parental leave scheme does not meet its objective for most fathers.

Introduced in April 2015, shared parental leave was intended to give families the choice of whether they shared the responsibility for providing care in a child’s first year. With this policy, if a mother chooses to end her maternity leave early, the couple can then share whatever leave remains. Parents can take shared parental leave at the same time, or the other parent can take the rest of the leave instead.

The complexity of applying for shared parental leave is just one obstacle stopping fathers from taking up the benefits of this scheme. Others have reported to the Committee that the design of the shared parental leave regime discourages take-up as any leave the father gained, reduced the amount the mother was entitled to.

Key recommendations from the Committee include that:

  • statutory paternity pay should be paid at 90% of fathers’ pay (capped for higher earners) to help ensure that all fathers, regardless of income, can be at home in the early weeks of their child’s life;
  • the Government should consider the costs and benefits of a new policy of 12 weeks’ standalone paternity leave in the child’s first year as an alternative to shared parental leave;
  • immediate legislation for all jobs to be advertised as flexible from day one, unless there are solid business reasons not to;
  • workplace rights for fathers who are agency workers or self-employed should be the same as those for employed fathers where practical – for example by introducing a paternity allowance similar to maternity allowance.

These proposed improvements to parental policies would ‘better serve’ fathers, particularly those on lower incomes, wanting to take more of an equal share in raising their children. The changes would also help to support women going back to work and could potentially narrow the gender pay gap.

Danielle Ayres, senior employment solicitor at Gorvins states “In my experience, there does seem to be a shift, with more fathers showing willingness and helping out with caring for their children, rather than childcare being a ‘women’s’ issue. However, more certainly needs to be done to ensure that fathers feel comfortable asking for and taking shared parental leave, or more leave after the birth of their child. The recommendations made by the Committee would certainly help this along if they were to be put in place, so that all fathers have a chance to spend time and bond with their children, in the same way as mothers do, without fear of their earnings being substantially effected or repercussions at work.”

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