Fathers and the workplace Contents

4Shared parental leave and pay

57.The Government’s flagship policy on shared parental leave was introduced in April 2015. It was intended to send “a clear message that responsibility for providing care in a child’s first year should be shared.”73 Under this policy, if a mother ends her maternity leave early, up to 50 weeks, the couple can then share whatever leave remains. Parents can take shared parental leave at the same time, or the father (or the mother) can take the rest of the leave individually. Shared parental pay is currently paid at £140.98 or 90 per cent of weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for a maximum of 37 weeks. The parent taking shared parental leave must have worked for the same employer for 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the baby is due.

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

58.The Minister told us that the Government will be undertaking an evaluation of shared parental leave in 2018:

The purpose of doing the evaluation is to find out what is going on, what sort of men are asking for [shared parental leave] and using it, what sort of employers are doing it, whether there is any correlation in the types of employers that are granting it, and the barriers that fathers face. All of those things will be evaluated, as well as the actual numbers on the take-up. Depending on what we find out, we will make some judgements about the policy implications.74

59.Those fathers who have been able to take up shared parental leave have some very positive stories to tell.75 One father told us that, once his wife ended her maternity leave at nine months, he took the remaining three months unpaid. He said he was lucky that he and his wife were able to use savings to pay the bills for those three months and it was an opportunity that he did not want to turn down. He told us; “I feel very grateful that I have been able to have that time.”76

60.There is also potential for fathers’ leave to have a significant influence on families, not just at the time, but in future years as well.77 The Government told us that international evidence is mixed about whether the amount of caring fathers do in the first year of the child’s life is particularly influential on how parents divide their roles and responsibilities over the long term.78 However, experts on fathers and work were less equivocal. Dr Helen Norman, Professor Colette Fagan and Professor Mark Elliot told us that “the work and care arrangements established in the first year of parenthood set up a pattern of care-giving that persists two years later.”79 According to Professor Margaret O’Brien, fathering alone for a significant period is hugely influential in terms of subsequent family roles: “Fathers become more independent caregivers and are more responsible for housework if they parent solo for some time.She says that when fathers take only a couple of weeks off around the birth, the division of tasks in the home over subsequent years continues to follow a more traditional, gendered model. In contrast, when a father spends a longer period caring solo for very young children he has a closer relationship with them in the longer term and takes on more responsibility for domestic tasks as well. Professor O’Brien concludes that “this chunk of solo caring by the father seems to be a tipping point, offering considerable potential for greater gender equality in the home.”80

61.Working Families and Family Friendly Working Scotland agree with this conclusion and argue that when fathers take parental leave and undertake more childcare, mothers are more likely to advance in their careers.81 The Fatherhood Institute puts it this way:

if the father does not play a substantial care-taking role early on, he may never do so. Nor is it useful for father and mother to take leave together: it is usually after fathers have cared for their children solo for extended periods that gender roles are transformed.82

Low levels of take-up

62.These effects will necessarily be limited, however, if only a few fathers are able to take advantage of shared parental leave. Estimates made by the Government at the time of the introduction of shared parental leave suggested that take-up by eligible fathers would only be between two and eight per cent.83 When we took evidence from the Minister for this inquiry, we asked for recent figures for shared parental leave; she told us that take-up remained “disappointing [ … ] under 10 per cent”. We pressed the Minister on the level of take-up the Government would like to see. She responded, “I would regard 25 per cent as successful. I would regard anything over 20 per cent as very encouraging. We are not going to see those figures, so [the level of take-up] is going to demonstrate that we have a lot more to do.”84

Complexity of the process

63.We heard concerns that take-up of shared parental leave is suppressed because it is “administratively cumbersome”.85 The CIPD found that more than seven in ten employers thought shared parental leave was complicated or very complicated86 and Dr Emma Banister and Dr Ben Kerrane said; “Smaller employers are unlikely, we suggest, to have the resources to be able to assist fully with unpacking the complexity of the policy with their employees.”87

64.We heard that the process for applying for shared parental leave hinders take-up by parents. The NASUWT described it as “bureaucratic” in terms of the notification required and the way in which periods of leave are booked as either ‘continuous leave’ or ‘discontinuous leave’. NASUWT also highlighted the problem for parents that, once leave has been booked, the employer can refuse a period of ‘discontinuous leave’ and the onus then reverts back to the employee to either withdraw the request or modify it.88

Design of shared parental leave

65.We heard wide criticisms about the design of shared parental leave and the impact this has on take-up rates. Any leave that is taken by a father under this policy reduces the amount of leave that the mother is able to take; this type of design is known as ‘maternal transfer’.89 Many fathers are reluctant to take leave that they feel belongs to their partner. This was the experience of one father we spoke to who said:

If hypothetically it was six weeks, two months or anything that was for me that did not detract from my wife’s leave, then I would have had it in a heartbeat and she would probably have been happy for me to do that, but because it took away [from her leave], that was not an option.90

A mother told us she wanted there to be “dedicated daddy time after birth that doesn’t affect the mother’s entitlement.”91

66.Duncan Fisher described shared parental leave as “terrible”, because of the way that leave is transferred from the mother:

all the leave is given to the mother, and she then gives it to the guy if she wants to. That communicates a really unfortunate message, which is a foundation of gender inequality in our society. It says that the caring is the mother’s role.92

67.Professor Tina Miller built on this theme: “mothers and fathers do not make choices about who takes leave on a level playing field; it is gendered, and it is historically unequal.” She believes that making parental leave a dedicated right for fathers is essential to its effectiveness as a tool for promoting sharing of care. She argued that:

if we are really serious [about fathers sharing care], we have to say, ‘This is fathers’ leave.’ Men will benefit in all sorts of ways from that, and many men want that. It does make it possible for the fathers who have not realised they want it or find it difficult to try to ask and request that.93

68.Neil Carberry of the CBI told us that businesses would not feel there was a problem with reserving parts of the leave for fathers, but that businesses “would be concerned if we were moving into a period where the shared parental leave period extended.”94

Low levels of awareness of shared parental leave

69.Levels of awareness about shared parental leave remain low.95 One father reported that he was the first dad in an organisation of 4,000 to have taken it:

The person in HR was a bit like, ‘I do not know what to do here’, because it was new. I found that a bit shocking because it is something that has been going for two years. I do not think there is a lot of knowledge about it [among] the general public.96

The Government estimates that only around half of the public are aware of this option for parents. In order to improve awareness, the Government launched a publicity campaign about shared parental leave in February 2018.97

Low rate of shared parental pay

70.For some fathers, the main barrier to taking up shared parental leave is financial. The gender pay gap between mothers and fathers is far wider than that between all women and all men; in couple families with at least one working parent, only one mother in five (22 per cent) brings home even half the family income, and this figure rises to around one third in households in which both parents are in paid work.98 One father told us that these financial issues were critical to decision-making about shared parental leave; “Shared parental leave appeared pointless to us (and probably most relationships) post-birth because I’m the breadwinner and it makes no financial sense, as we struggle financially already.”99 Where a mother’s employer offers enhanced maternity pay, there will be an additional disincentive for her to lose this by ending maternity leave and the father taking up shared parental leave paid at a lower rate.

71.We recognise the barrier that the low shared parental pay rate presents to fathers taking up their entitlement. However, the evidence we have received about the design and take-up of shared parental leave and how parental leave policies work in other countries does not lead us to conclude that enhancing pay would on its own create the cultural or behavioural change necessary to meet the Government’s objectives. Maternity Action told us that, in order to have an impact on gender equality, significant numbers of fathers need to take extended periods of leave; they warned against policies that allocate new funds but that make only minor changes to fathers’ leave-taking and have minimal impact on workplace culture.100

72.Duncan Fisher of The Family Initiative was one of the experts consulted by the Government when it was developing the shared parental leave policy. He told us that it was clear at the time that it would not “tick the boxes that we know need to be ticked for leave systems to work.” He described these three boxes as: leave that is reserved only for fathers, sufficient pay to make it worthwhile for earning parents, and promoting cultural change through advertising campaigns and other initiatives.101

International experiences of dedicated fathers’ leave

73.We recognise that each country has its own particular culture and that fathers’ leave policies interact with numerous other domestic policies, so comparisons can be difficult. Nonetheless, international experiences of parental leave policies suggest that fathers’ individual right to a significant period of well-paid leave is key to their take-up rates and to fuller participation in their childcare and other domestic responsibilities.102 Sweden was the first country to grant fathers and mothers equal access to paid leave in 1974. Few men took parental leave in practice, however, until a non-transferable one-month paid father’s quota was introduced in 1995; when this happened, the take-up rate increased from nine per cent to 47 per cent of fathers over a period of eight years.103

74.The Fawcett Society and Fathers Network Scotland were among a number of organisations which pointed to Iceland as having a particularly effective model of standalone leave for fathers.104 Fathers Network Scotland said that, as in Sweden, the introduction of dedicated “daddy leave” in Iceland saw take-up rates soar from minimal when it was shared parental leave to almost universal. Fathers Network Scotland acknowledged that women may resent losing a portion of their maternity leave to fathers, but argued that the “use-it-or-lose-it system” had produced benefits for gender equality more widely.105

Costing leave policies for fathers

75.Changes to the level of pay to which fathers are entitled under paternity or shared parental leave policies would, of course, have cost implications. In its response to our predecessor Committee’s recommendations in its report on the gender pay gap report for a new parental leave policy (in addition to existing policies) and an increase in paternity pay, the Government accepted that increasing pay for fathers could help close the pay gap if it encouraged more fathers to take time off work to fulfil childcare responsibilities and thereby enable mothers who want to return to work early to do so. The Government also said, however, that there was insufficient evidence to justify the high costs to the taxpayer of such a change in policy.106

76.During this inquiry, the Government told us that it had produced very broad estimates of the cost of our predecessor Committee’s recommendation for additional leave for fathers at four weeks at 90 per cent of earnings and then a further eight weeks at the statutory pay rate. Mark Holmes of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy told us that, while the amount would depend very much on take-up and “a number of other factors”, the cost to the Exchequer had been estimated “in the high hundreds of millions per year”, and that the cost to business would be “in the low hundreds of millions per year”. The Government told us that, from the experience of other countries, it would take a long time to close the gender pay gap so there would be no immediate benefit to the Treasury in terms of greater labour market participation and higher wages for women.107 The status quo is not an option, however, not least because employers such as Aviva108 and others109 which are offering enhanced benefits to fathers are creating a new norm. This means that employers will need to increase their offer to employees to stay competitive to good quality candidates.

Conclusions and recommendation

77.The introduction of shared parental leave in 2015 represented a milestone in the development of workplace policies to support fathers to share their children’s care in the crucial first year. In its report on the gender pay gap, our predecessor Committee recommended the introduction of three months’ paid paternal leave for fathers and second parents, additional to existing parental benefits.

78.After receiving a large amount of evidence about how to meet government objectives on fathers sharing childcare, including from many fathers themselves, we believe that now is the time to take the next bold step in developing policies that will create real change in the lives of fathers and mothers. Incremental changes to the key policy expected to drive change will not meet the needs of younger generations of parents in particular.

79.It is clear to us that the current policies of shared parental leave and pay are driven by the best of intentions. A father can take up to 50 weeks of shared parental leave and 37 weeks of shared parental pay, meaning that he could be his child’s primary carer in the first year if the family chooses. For individual couples who have this choice, this could be a very welcome opportunity. However, the Government estimated that only a very small proportion of fathers will take up shared parental leave, and the proportion of fathers it allows to become the primary carer is likely to be even smaller.

80.The maternal transfer design of the current policy of shared parental leave and the low rate of pay militate against fathers, likely to be the higher earner, taking it up in significant numbers. The policy reinforces rather than challenges traditional gender roles and therefore undermines government objectives on fathers sharing care and mothers being supported back into the workplace if they wish. Furthermore, deep-rooted social norms about gender roles mean that, where couples take leave at the same time, as the current policy allows, it will be all too easy for the mother to be the primary carer and the father to be the ‘helper’, and will not have the desired impact on gender roles in the home.

81.The way leave policies are designed is not just about enabling parents to take up entitlements: for better or worse it influences gender roles within families.

82.The Government’s objective is for mothers and fathers to share the task of caring for their children more equally. The current shared parental leave policy will not achieve this on a large scale, as the Government’s own estimates of take-up show. The review of shared parental leave in 2018 presents an opportunity to look at ways of improving the policy, but also to consider alternative models which would better meet the Government’s objectives. The evidence we have received indicates that a dedicated period of leave for fathers could create change on the scale the Government wants in the longer term.

83.We recommend that, as part of its review of shared parental leave in 2018, the Government undertake an analysis of the costs and benefits of an alternative policy of 12 weeks paternal leave and pay to replace shared parental leave. This should include the following elements:

84.We acknowledge that the initial costs of implementing such a policy would be considerable. The Government’s analysis should separate out the costs of each of the features we have outlined, and set out how variable take-up and imposing caps on pay at different levels would affect these costs. There would, however, also be potential for significant gains to the public purse in the long term, and we ask the Government to set out and take into account a comprehensive list of these factors in its costing. Among the likely benefits would be:

85.We accept that the alternative policy we have outlined would not, on its own, replicate the current option of fathers being the primary carer in the child’s first year, but we have seen no evidence that any but a very small proportion of families would be able to or choose to do this under shared parental leave as currently designed. For most families, this is an offer on paper only. Instead, our suggested alternative policy could offer a much larger proportion of fathers the option of taking a significant period of leave in the child’s first year which could have a far wider impact on fathers’ caring and domestic responsibilities, on mothers’ participation in the workplace and on longer-term cultural change.

73 Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (FWP0054)

74 Q139 (Session 2017–19)

75 See Working Families case study videos

76 Q12 [Witness E] (Session 2017–19)

77 Business in the Community (FWP0059)

78 Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (FWP0054)

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

80 Professor Margaret O’Brien, “Home alone” parental leave for dads transforms fatherhood, March 2017

81 Working Families and Family Friendly Working (FWP0037)

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

83 Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (FWP0054)

84 Q138 (Session 2017–19)

85 Professor Margaret O’Brien (FWP0044)

86 Q80 [Jo Swinson] (Session 2017–19)

87 Dr Emma Bannister and Dr Ben Kerrane (FWP0039)

88 NASUWT (FWP0020)

89 Professor Margaret O’Brien (FWP0044)

90 Q73 [Witness A] (Session 2017–19)

91 A member of the public (FWP0005)

92 Q21 [Duncan Fisher] (Session 2016–17)

93 Q10 [Professor Tina Miller] (Session 2016–17)

94 Q97 [Neil Carberry] (Session 2016–17)

95 How Do You Do It Pty Ltd (FWP0023)

96 Q36 [Witness E] (Session 2017–19)

97 Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, New ‘Share the joy’ campaign promotes shared parental leave rights for parents, 12 February 2018

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

99 A member of the public (FWP0013)

100 Maternity Action (FWP0057)

101 Q21 [Duncan Fisher] (Session 2016–17)

102 Fatherhood Institute, FI Research Summary: Paternity Leave, 7 November 2014

103 Lidia Farre, Parental Leave Policies and Gender Equality: A Survey of the Literature, Estudios de Economics Aplicada, vol 34-1, pp45-60

104 Fawcett Society (FWP0053); Fathers Network Scotland (FWP0033)

105 Fathers Network Scotland (FWP0033)

106 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

107 Q129 [Mark Holmes] (Session 2017–19)

109 Deloitte (FWP0046), British Land (FWP0060)

15 March 2018