Fathers and the workplace Contents


1.Modern families face a range of challenges as they seek the right balance between working and family life. Just as mothers have sought equality in access to employment, fathers increasingly want to combine work with time spent fulfilling childcare responsibilities. Reforms to support for working mothers were introduced following the Second World War2 and accelerated from the 1970s onwards as a result of campaigns against sex discrimination in the workplace.3 Workplace support for fathers, in contrast, began developing in the UK much more recently; paid statutory paternity leave was introduced as recently as 2003, and although fathers’ participation in the active care of their babies and young children has increased steadily in the last half century, policy has not kept up with the pace of social change.4

Benefits for children of fathers taking paternity leave

2.International research shows that children benefit when fathers take paternity leave. Fathers’ leave-taking, especially of more than two weeks, is associated with more involvement in childcare which, in turn, is linked to better outcomes for children. This includes performing better on cognitive tests and being better prepared to start school (as shown by studies from Australia and Norway), and a downward trend in young children’s injuries (in a study in Sweden). In the UK, when fathers did not take paternity leave, their three-year-olds were more likely to have developmental problems.5 One father told us that “empathetic and supportive fatherhood contributes to effective child development and reduces the potential for social problems.”6

Fathers’ changing attitudes to caring for their children

3.Fathers are carrying out a greater proportion of childcare than ever before. In 1961 the amount of time fathers spent caring for pre-schoolers was 12 to 15 per cent of the time spent doing so by mothers; by 2017 it was almost half, meaning that for every hour a mother devotes to caring for a young child a father now devotes, on average, 30 minutes.7

4.The evidence is that fathers increasingly want to spend more time caring for their children, and that this is particularly true of a younger generation of fathers.8 The Modern Families Index 2017 found that, when asked whether they would assess their childcare needs before taking a new job or promotion, 76 per cent of younger fathers said they would.9 Sarah Jackson of Working Families, which publishes The Modern Families Index, told us that younger fathers often find that they do not have the role they want: “There is an expectation among younger couples that there will be equality at home and equality at work: so he is going to be an active father and she is going to be active in the workforce. They are not getting that.”10

5.Professor Margaret O’Brien, Director of the Thomas Coram Unit at University College London, described the phenomenon of “work-family conflict”, in which work negatively affects family life and responsibilities, and family responsibilities negatively affect work.11 This feeling of conflict was reflected in the evidence that we received from fathers themselves. One told us about the decision he made to change his work patterns: “I was travelling all the time and working six days a week. At some point you just make the decision you want to spend some time with the kids. You will not get those years back.”12

Government policies to support fathers

6.A range of policies is now available to support working fathers: time off to attend antenatal appointments, statutory paternity leave and pay, shared parental leave and pay, the right to request flexible working, and unpaid parental leave and time off for dependants (emergency leave).13

7.The Government’s intentions in putting these policies in place seem clear: it has consistently said that it wants fathers and mothers to share care for their children more equally, and has put particular focus on sharing responsibility for providing care in a child’s first year.14 In November 2017 the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Margot James MP, told us that fathers doing less than half of the childcare tasks in the home places too great a burden on women. More positively, she said that “it is very important for family life that fathers get the chance to bond with their children, as mothers have always traditionally done”.15

8.The Government also acknowledges that fathers taking greater responsibility for childcare, and thus enabling women to re-join the workplace, will ultimately contribute to reducing the gender pay gap.16 This issue is therefore important not only for families, but for the economy. Our predecessor Committee’s report on the gender pay gap in 2016 found that the unequal division of responsibility for childcare in the home is a major contributory factor to the gap.17 Key recommendations included that all jobs should be available on flexible terms unless an employer could demonstrate an immediate and continuing business case against doing so, and that shared parental leave (SPL) should be made more effective by the introduction of an additional three months’ paid paternal leave for ‘second parents’.18

9.Although it did not accept these recommendations, the Government reiterated that shared parental leave and pay in particular were intended to bring about a cultural change in attitudes towards shared parenting.19 It has committed to evaluating shared parental leave in 2018. In February 2018 the Government launched a publicity campaign aimed at promoting the benefits of SPL to parents and improving what is expected to be a disappointing level of take-up to date.

10.This is not the only area in which the Government appears to accept that some additional work is needed to make these policies effective in practice. A statutory evaluation of the right to request flexible working is due to take place in 2019, but the Prime Minister has already called for companies to make flexible working “a reality for all employees” by advertising all jobs as flexible from day one, unless there are solid business reasons not to.20

11.In this report, we examine the barriers to men’s full participation in their children’s lives and whether current workplace policies are sufficient to realise the full scale of the Government’s ambitions in this regard. We look chronologically at the support a father needs in the workplace, from the early days of his partner’s pregnancy and childbirth through to responsibility for childcare in early and later years. Before looking at each of the policies in turn, however, it is necessary to consider two factors that militate against the success of all of the policies: firstly, that many fathers do not have access to these provisions because of their employment status, and secondly, how culture and social norms present barriers to change.

How employment status affects access to parental support

12.A father’s employment status has a critical impact on his access to parental benefits; employed fathers can access the full range of benefits (if they meet the eligibility criteria), whereas fathers who are agency workers or in casualised jobs do not have access to the full range of entitlements. Fathers who are self-employed currently have no access to state support in the workplace for their childcare responsibilities.

13.Self-employment can bring flexibility for fathers who are dissatisfied with the support that employment provides for their childcare responsibilities. Several fathers told us that they had moved from employment to self-employment in order to downsize and spend more time with their family.21 For fathers of disabled children, who are significantly less likely to feel they achieve satisfactory work-life balance,22 self-employment may provide the control over working hours or the flexibility that they need to be available at short notice.23

14.The downside to self-employment, however, is the lack of state parental benefits. The same is mostly true of casual and agency workers. The CBI told us that disparities between the rights on offer to employees and agency or temporary workers were justified because there is a mutuality of obligation between employees and employers: “It is right that we offer a range of rights to our employees that is better than the range of rights companies are expected to offer someone who has come in for a week from an agency to cover someone being away on holiday.”24 The TUC, however, argued that, in reality, many people who are on zero-hours contracts and agency workers’ contracts are effectively in permanent jobs, and that they need rights to help them spend time with their families.25

15.Harmonisation of entitlements for different groups of workers was addressed by the Taylor Review of Modern Employment Practices which reported in November 2017. The review concluded:

There are some differences in benefit entitlement but these are now relatively small—for example, the self-employed [ … ] do not receive the same parental benefits. [ … ] the Review considers that those working in this way should receive the same benefits from the state.26

16.The Government responded to the Taylor Review in February 2018, saying that it agreed with the principle of equalising benefits for the self-employed but that it would consider these changes once it has considered the wider context of tax, benefits and rights over the longer term.27 The Review also recommended that all employees and workers should be given a written statement of rights on day one of their job and the Government accepted this recommendation, saying it was consulting on what information the statement should include.28 The written statement that employers are currently entitled to within two months of starting a new job does not include parental benefits.29

17.The Government has accepted the Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices’ recommendation that all employees and workers should be given a written statement of rights on day one of their job and says it is consulting on what should be included. We ask the Government to ensure that this statement includes all parental benefits.

18.Throughout this report, we have looked at how a father’s employment status affects his access to workplace support chronologically as we consider each policy, rather than considering different forms of employment separately.

Culture and social norms as a barrier to fathers sharing childcare

19.Even if access to parental benefits were universal, the extent to which fathers take up those benefits will be affected by cultural attitudes in workplaces and in society more widely. Government policy therefore has to overcome rigid social norms about gender roles which have a detrimental effect on the ability of fathers to access workplace support for their childcare responsibilities.30 According to Dr Helen McCarthy and Dr Laura King, the ideal of a man working full-time to support his family is powerful and long embedded:

The male breadwinner ideal has proved remarkably resilient throughout the twentieth century[ … ]. Any effort to challenge gendered attitudes in the present-day workplace must recognise the enduring and deeply entrenched nature of this ideal.31

20.Assumptions about who within a family is responsible for childcare can mean that fathers are ‘embarrassed’ to ask their employers for their entitlements, or fear the impact it could have on their career if they do.32 Forty-four per cent of fathers responding to the Modern Families Index published in 2017 said they had lied or bent the truth to their employer about family-related responsibilities that might be seen as interfering with work.33 Maternity Action argued that evidence of high levels of pregnancy and maternity discrimination indicate that fathers can have little confidence that their own rights as parents will be respected. It says that:

In exercising rights to leave and flexible working, fathers risk job loss, demotion and negative comments. These are an effective deterrent to fathers considering changing their working arrangements to take on a greater share of caring responsibilities.34

21.Individual fathers who gave evidence to the inquiry told us about negative workplace cultures. One described coming up against a “macho culture” and concern about being seen as “soft”,35 and Professor Tina Miller referred to qualitative studies which highlight the difficulty for fathers in a male-dominated environment to be the one to ask for leave.36 Some sectors are less family-friendly than others. One father who worked in the music industry told us that it was his clients’ expectations that were the problem, rather than his employer: “a week into my paternity leave I had several clients calling me up asking me what I was doing and why I was taking time off”.37

22.Fathers told us that employers routinely assumed that their child’s primary carer was the mother, even where childcare responsibility was shared or where he was the primary carer. They talked about being mocked by co-workers for working part-time to accommodate childcare pick-ups, with colleagues saying “Bye, part-timer”, or “Are you working part-time again?” or “Oh, you’re off early again”.38

23.Fathers also told us that services such as schools, nurseries and healthcare services sometimes treated them as secondary, even where they were the primary carer, and young fathers in particular can feel marginalised by services.39 Stereotypes about men and women’s parenting roles are widespread across different media40 as well as product marketing.41 One father told us: “I would say it is a cultural thing. We are in 2017 but we are not, as a nation, particularly progressive on this.”42 Another father said, “In order for more men to [take on caring responsibilities], it needs a massive cultural shift. It is going to take generations before we get there, the way it is going.”43

24.Leave policies can influence the division of caring and domestic responsibilities between mothers and fathers over the longer term44 and ultimately women’s participation and pay in the workplace.45 Researchers and policy-makers have noted a range of potential benefits when fathers take on more childcare, including benefits for family stability, father-child relationships, child development and fathers’ health.46

25.It should be noted that policies considered by our inquiry are not just for fathers but for all ‘second parents’; we recognise the importance of inclusive policies. We acknowledge that language, such as the term ‘second parents’, can itself reinforce notions about which parent is the primary carer. Our focus has been on the experiences of fathers specifically because gendered social norms about men’s and women’s roles are heavily implicated in the design, implementation and take-up of workplace policies. We believe that the effectiveness of workplace policies for other groups of parents, including same-sex parents, lone parents,47 non-resident or part-time resident parents and adoptive parents, is worthy of specific attention which we have not been able to give in this inquiry.

About this inquiry

26.Our predecessor Committee launched this inquiry in January 2017. A wide range of written submissions were received, many from individual fathers and mothers themselves, as well as from employer organisations, unions, researchers, think-tanks and NGOs and the Government. The Committee held two oral evidence sessions in the 2016–17 Session of Parliament to hear from expert witnesses.

27.Following the General Election in 2017, the newly-constituted Committee decided to continue work on the inquiry in the new Parliament. In November 2017 we held a roundtable in closed session to hear directly from fathers from different backgrounds and with different experiences about the support they had received in the workplace with their childcare responsibilities. Finally, we heard from the then Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Margot James, and Mark Holmes, Deputy Director, Labour Market, Individual Rights in the same Department.

28.We are grateful to all who provided evidence on the important issues we have considered in this inquiry. We are also grateful for the advice and assistance of our specialist adviser, Adrienne Burgess.48

2 Gov.uk, Maternity Allowance Background, accessed March 2018

3 British Library, The domestic division of labour, 8 March 2013

4 Barnado’s (FWP0024)

6 A member of the public (FWP0036)

7 Fatherhood Institute, Cash or Carry? Fathers combining work and care in the UK, December 2017

8 Trades Union Congress, Better jobs for mums and dads, 2017

10 Q1 [Sarah Jackson] (Session 2016–17)

11 Professor Margaret O’Brien (FWP0044)

12 Q60 [Witness H] (Session 2017–19)

13 While we have focused on workplace policies, we recognise that help with childcare costs and other benefits also play an important role in the support that fathers and their families receive.

14 Department for Business, Enterprise and Industrial Strategy (FWP0054)

15 Q101 (Session 2017–19)

16 Q101 (Session 2017–19)

17 Women and Equalities Committee, Second Report of Session 2015–16, Gender Pay Gap, HC 584

18 Women and Equalities Committee, Second Report of Session 2015–16, Gender Pay Gap, HC 584

19 Women and Equalities Committee, Third Special Report of Session 2016–17, Gender Pay Gap: Government Response to the Committee’s Second Report of Session 2015–16, HC 963

20 Prime Minister’s Office, 10 Downing Street, Prime Minister announces new drive to end the gender pay gap, 28 October 2017

21 Q14, Q90ff. [Witness H] (Session 2017–19) and Citizens Advice, Who’s the Boss? An exploration of the family lives of self-employed people, accessed March 2018, supports this

22 Trades Union Congress (FWP0055)

23 Fatherhood Institute, Cash or Carry? Fathers combining work and care in the UK, December 2017

24 Q75 [Neil Carberry] (Session 2016–17)

25 Q75 [Matthew Creagh] (Session 2016–17)

29 Gov.uk, Employment contracts, accessed March 2018

30 A member of the public (FWP0025)

31 Mile End Institute & History and Policy Parenting Forum (FWP0027)

32 Q46 (Session 2017–19)

34 Maternity Action (FWP0057)

35 Q47 (Session 2017–19)

36 Q10 (Session 2016–17)

37 Q14 [Witness H] (Session 2017–19)

38 Q69 [Witness B] (Session 2017–19)

39 Q18 [Professor Tina Miller] (Session 2016–17); Barnado’s (FWP0024)

40 Fatherhood Institute, Cash or Carry? Fathers combining work and care in the UK, December 2017

41 Dad’s House Ashford (FWP0030)

42 Q49 [Witness E] (Session 2017–19)

43 Q95 [Witness E] (Session 2017–19)

44 Dr Helen Norman, Professor Colette Fagan and Professor Mark Elliot (FWP0028)

45 Working Families and Family Friendly Working Scotland (FWP0037)

46 Q53 [Jo Swinson]; Fatherhood Institute, Cash or Carry? Fathers combining work and care in the UK, December 2017 (Session 2016–17)

47 Dad’s House Ashford (FWP0030)

48 Adrienne Burgess declared no interests.

15 March 2018