Changes to paternity provisions will be brought forward, the government has confirmed.
The Department for Business and Trade is advancing legislative changes aimed to reform parental leave and pay and achieve greater equality in parenting at work.
Responding to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s 2019 consultation, the Good Work Plan: Proposals to Support Families had been delayed by the Coronavirus pandemic.
The changes will see employed fathers and partners being given more flexibility and choice in terms of when and how paternity leave is taken, including the option to take their two weeks’ entitlement in separate one-week blocks.
Dads will also be able to take the time off at any point within the first year of birth or adoption, instead of only in the initial eight-week period.
Parents will have more flexibility to plan the leave they need, as the notice requirements for paternity leave will become more proportionate to the amount of time off that fathers or partner intend to take.
However, Joeli Brearley, CEO and founder of Pregnant Then Screwed, thinks the move isn’t enough to make a real difference given that the UK has the “worst paternity benefit in Europe”, which she believes is negatively impacting children, gender equality and the economy.
She explained: “As things stand paternity leave is paid at 44% of the living wage, therefore it’s not surprising that one in five dads can’t afford to take this leave, and of those who could afford to take leave – 43% returned early due to financial pressures. The long-awaited parental leave consultation recommendation to spread out the measily two weeks leave won’t change this – it is incredibly disappointing to see that this fails to address the real issues that families are facing.
“What we need to see is an increase in the length of non-transferrable paternity leave to a minimum of six weeks at 90% of income, in line with current statutory maternity pay. It is clear from our research that Increasing paid paternity leave to six weeks could reduce the gender pay gap and help to equalise men and women’s participation in the labour market – resulting in a potential £23 billion boost to the economy. This is the only way that we can truly start to bridge gender equality gaps in the workplace – mothers need greater support at this incredibly vulnerable time and fathers need time to connect with their newborns. If the government is serious about investing in parental leave – then properly ring-fenced and funded paternity leave is the first step.”
Simon Kelleher, head of policy and influencing at Working Families, welcomed the flexibility provided by the reforms, but also believes they do not address the barriers that prevent fathers and partners from taking time off to care for their newborns.
He said: “Around one in four fathers are not eligible to take paternity leave as they are either self-employed or have not been working for their employer for long enough. For eligible fathers, affordability is the primary obstacle to them and their families from enjoying the benefits of leave, as Statutory Paternity Pay is only around a third of the average weekly wage.”
Kelleher highlighted that the recent Working Families 2023 Index revealed eight out of 10 fathers from lower income households had not taken as much time off as they wanted to due to financial concerns.
He added: “To address this, paternity leave needs to become a day-one employment right and Statutory Paternity Pay should be raised to living wage levels, along with Statutory Maternity Pay. Further reforms to the parental leave policy framework should introduce a non-transferable block of new parent leave for fathers and partners, paid at liveable levels and which could be accessed by self-employed workers.”