Fatherhood Institute spells out key challenges for government

17 December 2007

British family life has been changing dramatically in recent years. The era of the breadwinner dad and stay at home mum has long gone. There has been a quiet revolution taking place behind closed doors and public policy still hasn’t caught up with this new reality

Dads in 2008

Families need greater support and dads need greater recognition from service providers:

• Almost half (49%) of all mums with children under one year old now work
• Between 1975 – 1997, dads’ care of infants and young children increased 800%
• Dads now take on a quarter (25%) of the family’s childcare-related activities during the working week
• 8 out of 10 working fathers work atypical hours and as a result they lose more than 15 hours per week with their children – more than one month (32.5 days) each year.

Recent evidence suggests that more than 4 out of 10 fathers (42%) have changed their jobs in order to work fewer hours and make time for their childcare responsibilities, even if this means taking a cut in salary, while one third of dads say their bosses are unsupportive of their childcare needs. Dads are providing more childcare but they want to be able do more. Latest Labour Force Survey evidence suggests that working hours are rising again, after years of decline. More than 1 in 8 of the British workforce now work more than 48 hours each week.*

The public wants more help for dads

Public opinion is running ahead of Government policy in support for families and the role of fathers. A recent survey we commissioned from ICM found that:

• 8 out of 10 people (80%) think fathers should feel as able as mothers to ask for flexible working
• 8 out of 10 women (80%) and more than 6 out of 10 men (62%) agree that fathers are as good as mothers at caring for children
• 7 out of 10 (70%) agree, 42% strongly, that society values a child’s relationship with its mother more than it values a child’s relationship with its father
• Almost 6 out of 10 (59%) agree with the statement that society assumes mothers are good for children, fathers have to prove it
• 7 out of 10 (70%) agree, 50% strongly, that there should be a zero tolerance approach if fathers do not take on their parenting responsibilities
• Almost 7 out of 10 (67%) agree that dads should be encouraged to spend time in school reading with their child
• 7 out of 10 (70%) agree, 50% strongly, that dads should be able to stay overnight with their partner in hospital when their baby is born.

What the Fatherhood Institute says

We face a stark choice. We can either give both fathers as well as mothers the support and time they need to be active and involved parents, or we can continue to put families under pressure – risking children’s welfare and damaging our social and economic wellbeing in both the short and long-term.

In our new report The Difference A Dad Makes, launched alongside the ICM survey research, we have identified six goals for policymakers as a first step to enabling greater positive involvement of dads:

• Shake up the parental leave system so fathers can spend more time with kids under two years-old
• 25,000 more dads per year to sign their child’s birth certificate, to reach international standards and halve the number of those who don’t
• Dads able to stay overnight in hospital with their partner when their baby is born
• Modern and relevant antenatal education for both parents
• Dads reading with their children in all primary schools
• Family professionals – midwives, teachers, health visitors, nursery workers, social workers – confidently engaging with dads as well as mums, and supporting all family types.

We believe achieving these goals is vital. In our main research summary, The Costs and Benefits of Active Fatherhood, we have gathered a substantial weight of evidence drawn both from the UK and internationally, to provide the most comprehensive analysis yet of the difference dads can make. What we have found challenges the all too familiar negative stereotypes of absent or “deadbeat” dads and provides ample evidence that it’s time to promote and celebrate active fatherhood…and to challenge policy makers to do the same.

* For references see The Difference A Dad Makes and Dads Just As Good As Me Press Release