Call for parental leave reforms as policies 'failing fathers'

A Women and Equalities Committee report has concluded that working fathers are being let down by the policies aimed at supporting them – particularly for men in lower paid roles. MPs heard how changes could also help finally end the gender pay gap.

Father greeting children outside workplace
The influential House of Commons panel is calling on the government to reform parental leave and family-friendly policies to ensure they meet the needs of 21st century families. The Women and Equalities Committee’s conclusions come as the government acknowledges how fathers taking a more active role in childcare is a key way of closing the gender pay gap for good and as the deadline for gender pay reporting nears.

Shared parental leave not achieving its goal

The report, Fathers and the Workplace, finds the right to request flexible working and shared parental leave scheme will not meet their objectives for most fathers. Shared parental leave in particular has been criticised since its introduction and seen very low levels of take-up.Citing evidence from parents, unions, researchers and employer organisations, Fathers and the Workplace also reports that the right to request flexible working and similar measures have not created the hoped for cultural change in employment.
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New parental leave reforms proposed

The Women and Equalities Committee is therefore recommending wide-ranging measures including:
  • introducing statutory paternity pay at 90% of the father’s pay (capped for higher earners) so all fathers can be at home around the time of their child’s birth
  • feasibility studies into replacing shared parental leave with 12 weeks of standalone fathers’ leave in a child’s first year 
  • immediate legislation for all jobs to be advertised as flexible from day one, unless there are solid business reasons
  • harmonising workplace rights for fathers who are agency workers or self-employed with those for employed fathers.

Supporting cultural shifts

Maria Miller MP, chair of the committee, commented: "The evidence is clear – an increasing number of fathers want to take a more equal share of childcare when their children are young, but current policies do not support them in doing so. "Outdated assumptions about men's and women's roles in relation to work and childcare are a further barrier to change."If we want a society where women and men have equality both at work and at home, I would strongly urge ministers to consider our findings. "Effective policies around statutory paternity pay, parental leave and flexible working are all vital if we are to meet the needs of families and tackle the gender pay gap."

Tackling fears and ensuring fairness

Women and Equalities Committee member, Gavin Shuker MP, added: "Fathers' attitudes to caring for their children are changing.They are carrying out a greater proportion of childcare than ever before but are still doing less than half the childcare that mothers do."We were concerned to hear that men simply don't feel able to ask their employers for leave or flexible working due to a macho culture or for fear it will harm their career prospects. We need to tackle these attitudes."Family-friendly government policies are unlikely to be effective without a cultural shift. It is very important – and only fair – that fathers of all incomes have an equal chance to bond with their children in the same way as mothers."
Relocate Magazine Winter 2017 front cover
Read more about the future workplace in the Winter issue of our magazine
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