Does Boris Johnson want to be taken seriously as a father? If so…

4 March 2020
Photo of Boris Johnson waxwork at Mme Tussaud’s, by Dominic Lipinski for Press Association

….yes of course the Prime Minister should take paternity leave when his partner Carrie Symonds gives birth to their baby this summer. Mr Johnson may not have presented himself as the most committed of hands-on fathers to date, but taking some time off with baby Number 6 (?) should be an entirely non-controversial step.

Listen to FI CEO/head of research Adrienne Burgess and LBC’s Iain Dale, talking about Boris Johnson’s planned paternity leave

British Prime Ministers have been at it for a while now: David Cameron took leave in 2010. Tony Blair didn’t quite, but he did what lots of dads do and took some time off. In New Zealand Jacinda Ardern showed that PMs can even give birth and recover from it. Yes that’s right, even six weeks away from running the world is possible.

But if Mr Johnson REALLY wants to be taken seriously as a father, there’s something else he ought be doing, and that is instructing the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to get on with reforming the UK’s old-fashioned, inflexible and sexist parenting leave system.

At the moment, women in the UK can take up to 52 weeks’ maternity leave. Employed men who have worked for the same employer for 41 weeks are eligible to 2 weeks’ statutory paternity leave, paid at below minimum wage. In terms of leave that men are, as fathers, independently entitled to, that’s it. The Government talks up shared parental leave (SPL) as if it’s the answer to parents’ prayers, cutting through all the gender-bias and allowing them to decide who stays off to look after the baby. But it’s a failed policy which is maternalistic in design and needs replacing.

BEIS’ muddled consultation on reforming SPL ended in November. More than three months later, we are still waiting for it to publish its findings.

Just in case he’s interested, here’s a crib-sheet that Mr Johnson might like to refer to as he ponders, this International Women’s Day (Sunday 8 March), why the UK – despite having the 5th biggest economy in the world – is only 21st in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Pay Gap Report 2020 – well below a host of Scandinavian countries, Germany, Ireland and even Nicaragua.

The following recommendations are drawn from our 2018 Nuffield Foundation-funded report Cash or Carry?. Read the full report here.

Give more dads better-paid paternity leave

Fathers who will have worked for an employer for 15 weeks before their baby’s due date (rather than for 41 weeks, as currently) should be eligible for the Statutory two weeks Paternity Leave, bringing this in line with mothers’ eligibility for Maternity Leave

Self-employed and ‘dependent contractor/ ‘worker’ fathers, as well as employed fathers not eligible for Paternity Leave and Pay, should be eligible for a period of leave for parenting as well as a Statutory Paternity Allowance payment (equivalent to the Maternity Allowance currently paid to comparable mothers).

Replace shared parental leave with a ‘father’s quota’

Abolish the current Shared Parental Leave (SPL) and Pay system (i.e. Maternity Leave and Pay that eligible mothers can transfer to an eligible partner). This policy is ineffective and discriminatory: eligibility is seriously limited; the policy is too complex for most to understand; the statutory pay level is too low for most fathers to be able to participate in the scheme

In place of SPL, introduce a non-transferable 13-week leave (the ‘Father’s Quota’), reserved for fathers/ mothers’ partners to be taken in the first year of an infant’s life. Eligibility, as with current Paternity Leave, should rest solely on that parent’s own employment history, without reference to the mother’s

Improve pay for fathers’ leave

(i) Expectant/ adoptive fathers/ mothers’ partners are currently eligible for unpaid time off to attend two antenatal appointments. This leave should be paid at 100% of salary (with a ‘cap’ – see below for definition of ‘cap’)

(ii) Statutory Paternity Leave (two weeks) should be paid at 90% of salary (again with a cap)

(iii) The first four weeks of the new 13-week Father’s Quota should be paid, in line with current Statutory Maternity Pay, at 90% of salary (with a cap). The remaining nine weeks of the Father’s Quota should paid at the Statutory Minimum (currently £140.98 per week), with the ambition to increase both the length and pay levels of the Father’s Quota as well as the pay levels of Maternity Pay steadily over time to the point at which each parent qualifies for six months’ non-transferable leave paid at 90% of salary (with a cap) to be taken in the first year of their child’s life. Mothers could still take longer Maternity Leave if they so wished, but at a cost to the family’s finances, since the Father’s Quota (and associated pay) would be lost.

Consider introducing a ‘cap’ on Maternity Pay

Currently, there is no ‘cap’ on the level at which the Exchequer must reimburse the employer for mothers’ earnings when she is on the first six weeks of Maternity Leave. The Exchequer must reimburse employer for 90% of the woman’s salary for six weeks, whether she is paid £15,000 or £150,000 per annum. Other jurisdictions almost universally ‘cap’ the pay level at which the employer can claim for an individual employee who is on Maternity, Paternity or Parental Leave. If Paternity Pay (with a cap) is introduced in the UK – as we believe it should be – equalities legislation will require an equivalent cap on Maternity Pay. The Government should explore savings to be made by capping Maternity Pay, to establish whether savings would be sufficient to support a fairer parenting pay system for all.

Tags: , , , , , ,