Only a third of UK dads take paternity leave: why?

12 July 2022

Statutory paternity leave and pay in the UK is among the lowest in Europe. The pay rate is lower than the minimum wage, and represents about a quarter of the median pay for a full-time working man (£652 per week).

So especially given the huge rises in cost of living young families now face, it’s hardly surprising that many just can’t afford for the father to take it. As a ballpark figure, an ‘average earning’ dad taking statutory paternity pay (if eligible) currently stands to lose almost £1,000 of income during the first two weeks after the birth.

We know that many men use up holiday instead of taking paternity leave. We also know that take-up rates look artificially low because some employers don’t bother to claim paternity pay back from the government. For more on this, see our Cash or Carry evidence review.

It’s also worth remembering that about a quarter of men aren’t eligible for paternity leave and pay in the first place – either because they’re self-employed, or have been with their employer for less than 6 months.

According to a Women’s Budget Group analysis, people with the lowest eligibility for paid maternity and paternity include young employees, both men and women of Pakistani origin, people working in intermediate, semi-routine or routine occupations, and men working in male-dominated industries.

Wider parenting leave system

Less than 4% of eligible families use shared parental leave. Three years after the Government closed its consultation on how to create a better system, we’re still waiting to hear what it proposes to do about it.

A fit-for-purpose statutory system would give all dads 2 weeks’ paternity leave paid at 90% of salary (the same rate as mums receive for the first six weeks of maternity leave) and at least a month of dads-only parental leave later in the year, paid at the same rate. It would also provide support for self-employed dads, and others who are currently ineligible.

Why does this matter?

The lack of affordable parenting leave for fathers is part of a ‘dad-shaped hole’ in UK family policy, which also involves them being largely ignored by NHS maternity services. Evidence shows that children do much better if they are strongly attached to more than one parent – learning faster, developing higher self-esteem, forming better friendships in childhood, doing better at school and becoming more socially mobile. We should also be supporting men to become expert at hands-on caregiving – rather than expecting mothers to do it all. If we want women to compete on an even footing in the workplace, we should be investing to improve leave and pay for dads.

Have your say on paternity leave and the ‘dad-shaped hole’ in UK family policy by joining our Time with Dad campaign. Use the hashtag #timewithdad to share your thoughts and ideas on social media.

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