Fathers and the workplace Contents

3Paternity leave and pay

36.Paternity leave is the most widely-known and well-understood workplace policy for fathers.53 Its purpose is to allow the father to spend time with his partner and new baby around the time of the birth. In 2003, paid paternity leave was introduced in the UK for the first time, allowing eligible fathers—those who have been continuously employed for 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth— to take 10 days’ leave at or around the time of the child’s birth or adoption. Paternity pay of up to two weeks is currently paid at £140.98 per week or 90 per cent of weekly earnings, whichever is lower.  Some fathers who are workers (‘employed earners’) are eligible for paternity pay, but self-employed fathers do not have access to any form of state paternity support.

37.Maternity leave is, by contrast, a day-one right in a new job for employed mothers-to-be, and is available for up to 52 weeks. Employed mothers and some agency workers can access maternity pay which is subject to eligibility criteria and a qualifying period. This is paid for six weeks at 90 per cent of weekly earnings, and subsequently at £140.98 or 90 per cent of weekly earnings, whichever is lower, for 33 weeks.  Some self-employed and low-paid mothers are eligible for a maternity allowance, as are some agency worker mothers if they are not entitled to maternity pay.

Are the Government’s policies on paternity leave and pay effective?

38.Paternity leave is clearly appreciated by those who are able to make use of it. One father told us of the benefits of paternity leave for his relationship with his child and for his partner’s career:

This paternity leave was very valuable and useful because my partner wanted to go back to work as she’s a retail manager and sales had fallen whilst she was out of the business on maternity and I love spending time with the children as I obviously haven’t got the bond a mother has from physically giving birth.54

A survey in 2009 found that over half (56 per cent) of British fathers who took paternity leave believed this was directly responsible for their greater involvement in the care of their children in the longer term; and 69 per cent said it led to improvements in the quality of family life.55

Levels of take-up

39.It is not known, however, how many fathers are benefiting from this entitlement. The Government does not hold accurate data on the levels of take-up of paternity leave and pay because pay levels are so low and leave is so short that many employers do not seek reimbursement from the Government.56 The need for evidence was stressed by witnesses. The Government told us that it plans to commission the next edition of the Maternity and Paternity Rights Survey which has been conducted at intervals since the 1970s, during 2018. This will involve parents with young children being interviewed to monitor the take-up of maternity and paternity benefits.57 The Government has also said that it plans to develop an employer survey.

40.Some information about take-up is provided by research by Professor Margaret O’Brien and others published in 2015. This research found that 91 per cent of UK fathers took time off around the time of their baby’s birth. Of those taking time off, 49 per cent took statutory paternity leave only, 25 per cent took statutory leave plus other paid leave, 18 per cent took other paid leave only, and five per cent took unpaid leave. Those taking statutory paternity leave were most likely to take the full statutory two weeks (50 per cent).58

Eligibility criteria

41.TUC analysis of the Labour Force Survey found that more than one in four men who became fathers in 2016 (over 157,000 new fathers) did not qualify for paternity leave or pay.  44,000 of these were ineligible because they had not been working for their employer for long enough. We heard arguments that the qualifying period should be removed; Neil Carberry of the CBI, for example, told us that “it does seem odd or at least in question to me why a statutory maternity leave is a day-one right but a statutory paternity leave and access to shared parental leave is not.”59

42.The Government told us that the justification for statutory paternity leave not being a day-one right, in contrast to maternity leave, is because of the different physiological effects of childbirth on women, including physical recovery from the birth and a choice whether to breastfeed. The Minister said she could understand how this could seem “quite unfair” on new fathers.60 Mark Holmes, Deputy Director of Labour Market and Individual Rights in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, added that there is a need to balance the benefit to the employee with the uncertainty caused to the employer. The Minister undertook to look further at this issue.61

43.The TUC also told us, in relation to paternity leave as well as other rights, that one of their key concerns is that fathers who find themselves in precarious employment, such as agency work, zero-hours contracts or casual hours contracts, have no access to these employment rights that would enable them to spend more time with their families.62 A number of organisations called for the introduction of a paternity allowance, similar to maternity allowance, for self-employed fathers, because they may not be able to take leave at all when their child is born. The Fawcett Society called this a “loophole” which needed closing.63

44.Paternity leave and pay have the potential to meet the Government’s objective of supporting fathers to be at home around the time of their child’s birth, but they need updating to meet the needs of the modern family in a changing workforce.

45. We recognise the different policy objectives of maternity leave and paternity leave, but we are not convinced that this should mean that expectant fathers should not have a day-one entitlement to paternity leave in a new job. The current qualifying criteria risk reinforcing a message that parenting is a less important role for fathers than for mothers. Nor do we believe that fathers who are agency workers or who are self-employed should be left without access to financial support at the time of the birth of their children.

46.Fathers who are employees should be eligible for two weeks’ paternity leave as a day-one right, similar to maternity leave. Fathers who are agency workers should be eligible for paternity pay with the same eligibility requirements as agency worker mothers have for maternity pay. Self-employed fathers should be eligible for a Paternity Allowance, similar to Maternity Allowance.

Level of pay

47.We heard evidence that the low level of statutory paternity pay is a barrier to some fathers taking time off work to be at home when their child is born. Low-income fathers are half as likely as better-paid fathers to take statutory paternity leave and are also far less likely to receive wage top-ups from their employer.64 There are sectoral differences too: for example, a 2013 survey of employers found that 41 per cent of employers in the manufacturing sector experienced fathers taking annual leave instead of statutory paternity leave, while only seven per cent of employers in the public administration and defence sector reported the same.65

48.The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) told us about its research with employers which found that around half (49 per cent) provide only the statutory minimum amount of paternity pay, while almost one in five (18 per cent) pay at or near the full rate of pay for paternity leave. Public and voluntary sector organisations are more likely than those in the private sector to enhance paternity pay provision, with 29 per cent of public sector and 26 per cent of voluntary sector organisations paying two weeks’ enhanced paternity pay at or near the full rate of pay, compared to 15 per cent of private sector organisations.66 Referring to differences in pay rates and length of leave between maternity and paternity leave, the Men and Boys Coalition said that:

The fact that there is both a difference in the time periods and rates of entitlement already acts as a structural barrier regarding fatherhood and the workplace. In effect, it acts as a clear push factor or disincentive for working men to be involved as fathers in the very first weeks of their child’s birth.67

49.The effect of the policy as currently structured is to enable better-off fathers to benefit more; we do not believe that the Government intends to target its paternity policies in this way. We do, however, recognise that ongoing inequalities in pay mean that men (who are the overwhelming majority of second parents) have significantly higher incomes than women on average. It is reasonable, therefore, for paternity pay to be capped for higher earners to limit the cost to the public purse.

50.We do not believe that the Government’s objective of supporting fathers to share care can be met if paternity pay is so low that better-off fathers are more able to take time off at the start of their child’s life. This militates against the Government’s aim that fathers should be able to have time with their new child. We reiterate the recommendation of our predecessor Committee in its report on the gender pay gap that two weeks’ paternity leave should be paid at 90 per cent of earnings (capped), similar to maternity pay which is paid for six weeks at 90 per cent (uncapped).

Length of paternity leave

51.Fathers often extend their paternity leave by taking unpaid leave or annual leave. One father told us: “For all three of my children, I have had to take two weeks’ holiday afterwards, obviously, because [ … ] giving birth to a child is not the easiest thing so you need to support your wife afterwards.”68 Not all fathers, however, can afford to do this or are permitted to do so by their employer.

52.Limiting the statutory period to two weeks is, some argued, particularly inadequate in certain specific circumstances, such as where the mother or baby is ill or has been born prematurely. One father told us:

When my partner had our daughter, after three days she had to go back into hospital. She got an infection, so she was in for five days. I seemed to not have any bonding time at the start with the baby. I spoke to my company about it and they were not interested. All they wanted to know was, ‘How soon are you coming back?’69

53.We received evidence from Bliss that over 90,000 babies are born in the UK every year who need specialist neonatal care over periods which can vary from days to months. If a baby remains in hospital for the full two weeks of paternity leave this leaves no time for the father to bond with the baby or support his partner in the home environment. In a survey on parental leave conducted by Bliss in 2013, almost 70 per cent of fathers reported having to return to work while their baby was still on the neonatal unit, with nearly a further 10 per cent being signed off sick or taking unpaid leave while their baby was in hospital.70

54.There are similar challenges for fathers of multiple babies. A father of twins told us:

After the birth, my wife needed to stay in hospital for five days due to health issues with the boys. [ … ] This means that with an unsupportive employer, the father of multiples inevitably has an awful dilemma: to either use up paternity leave while the children are in hospital—meaning he is potentially unavailable to help once they come home—or to leave the mother and children alone in hospital while he works, and to ‘save’ paternity leave for when the family return home. Neither of these is appealing: the employer ends up with a distracted and/or exhausted father, the father ends up in a highly stressful situation, and the mother has to cope without the support of the father.71

55.When asked about the length of paternity leave in cases of multiple births, where the baby is born prematurely or where the mother has to spend a long period in hospital, the Minister said that in some cases “I quite agree that it must seem inadequate—certainly after multiple births, and also the issue of babies being born very prematurely.”72

56.We recommend that the new edition of the Maternity and Paternity Rights Survey should gather evidence about:

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

54 A member of the public (FWP0017)

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

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

57 Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (FWP0001)

58 Professor Margaret O’Brien (FWP0044)

59 Q78 [Neil Carberry] (Session 2016–17)

60 Q118 (Session 2017–19)

61 Q121 (Session 2017–19)

62 Q48 [Matthew Creagh] (Session 2016–17)

63 Fawcett Society (FWP0053)

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

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

66 CIPD (FWP0038)

67 Men and Boys Coalition (FWP0042)

68 Q16 [Witness G] (Session 2017–19)

69 Q26 [Witness F] (Session 2017–19)

70 Bliss (FWP0062)

71 A member of the public (FWP0004)

72 Q109 (Session 2017–19)

15 March 2018