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Daddy day care? – Changes to paternity leave rights

With new paternity leave regulations coming into force, could it be the father that is left holding the baby? Diana Spencer explores the attitudes to the possibility of a greater role for UK fathers.

Films like Eddie Murphy’s Daddy Day Care get big laughs from the idea of a father being left at home with the children. However, if the Labour Party gets its way, there could soon be a greater number of UK fathers taking extended paternity leave and staying at home with their new babies.

The proposals are for a Scandinavian-style scheme whereby parents will be able to share leave from work, allowing the woman to return to her job whilst the father stays at home. But how will families in this country respond to the proposed changes? Will UK men be interested in the role of the stay-at-home dad? This article explores some of the possible issues.


Labour’s proposals

From April 2011, fathers will be entitled to take up to six months paternity leave under new Government proposals to share leave entitlements between both parents. Fathers will be allowed a total of three months paid leave, to be taken during the second half of the baby’s first year, but only if the mother returns to work. The proposals are currently under consultation.

Fathers are currently entitled to only two weeks leave, during which time they receive Statutory Paternity Pay (SPP). Qualifying fathers are also permitted to take unpaid parental leave or to request flexible working.

The Labour Party have also expressed their desire to extend paid maternity leave to a full year, but there are no plans to put this into force as yet.

It is hoped that the new rights will encourage fathers to play a greater role in their children’s upbringing, and the Government estimate that the impact on businesses will be low, affecting less than 1% of small firms.

In response to the proposals, the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) have raised concerns about the administrative burden that the new regulations could place on companies.

Mike Emmott, Employee Relations Advisor, said: “We share the widely expressed concerns about the principle of allowing parents to convert maternity leave unused by mothers into paternity leave for fathers – we have always maintained the administrative burden involved could cause a real headache for employers.

“However, we are pleased that the Government is evidently intending to move towards a more equitable sharing of the burden of child support between mothers and fathers in the early months after a baby is born. Without some further steps in this direction, the stated aim of the main parties to close the gender pay gap will be hobbled in one important regard.”


Daddy don’t care?

Despite good intentions to ‘close the gender pay gap’ the Government has conceded that they do not expect take-up of the new entitlement to be high, with just one in 16 fathers expected to choose a period of full-time childcare.

CIPD research has also indicated that few fathers are interested in even the current paternity leave allowance due to the low pay. Mike Emmott added: “Our research shows that “paid paternity leave”, restricted as it is to a statutory £123.06 per week, is not attractive to the vast majority of fathers. We found that less than half of fathers would take even the existing two weeks paternity leave at statutory pay levels, many preferring to take paid leave instead. So the proposed increase in ‘paid’ paternity leave is unlikely to lead to any dramatic increase in take-up.”

These were the conclusions of a piece of research entitled Flexible working and Paternity Leave conducted in 2004 by the MORI Social Research Institute on behalf of the CIPD and Hammonds, as part of which 1,193 adults were interviewed.

The research found that many fathers were actually unaware of the paternity leave rights that are currently available to them, and those that received the information from a source other than their employer assumed any request for leave would be frowned upon.

Others felt that the pressure of their workload was too great or that they would lose business as a result of taking the time off entitled to them. Another reason cited by the CIPD was a the existence of a traditional ‘macho’ working culture that discouraged men from requested leave for fear of being seen as ‘shirking’ by other men in the company.

However, the majority of those interviewed agreed that the statutory pay level was far too low, and many voted in favour of two weeks leave at full pay, or at least 90% of full pay. When asked about the possibility of extended leave shared between both parents, many expressed concern about financial considerations and how this would be arranged with two different companies.


Cultural revolution

The principles of a Scandinavian-style policy where parents share leave and both spend time at home with the child are attractive to many people, especially to those who feel that it is only by equalising these rights that men and women can ever truly share a ‘level playing field’ in the workplace. However, there is widespread agreement that a dramatic change in culture would be required for such ideas to be welcomed in this country.

Despite recent reports of high rates of male unemployment, men are traditionally, and generally remain, the higher earners. This means that many families may not be able to afford for the father to take leave that is unpaid or at a lower rate of pay. Indeed, the CIPD’s research findings give the indication that many men may not even want to take this time away from work should it be available to them, due to pressures at work or for fear of ridicule amongst colleagues.

While films like Daddy Day Care continue to present the idea of a father at home caring for the children as a subject of humour, it is unlikely that this underlying cultural change will take place. However, for the small but increasing number of families where the mother is the main ‘bread-winner’ and wishes to return to work following the birth of her child, these proposals will be warmly welcomed. And it is possible that their implementation could be the first step towards a new attitude to the role of the father in UK families.


Let us know your views on the proposed changes. Are you a soon-to-be father that would consider taking extended paternity leave? Or an expectant mother that would like to return to work? Email diana.spencer@healthpublishing.co.uk.

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