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Our campaign for 6 weeks' well-paid leave for dads: update

Despite decades of progress towards greater sharing of caregiving, the ‘mother as primary caregiver, father as main breadwinner’ model remains the norm in many UK families.

Of course it does: the UK’s gender pay gap of 14.9% [Note 1] is more than two percentage points above the EU average [Note 2], and the ‘motherhood penalty’ accounts for most of this gap [Note 3]. Mothers’ median hourly earnings are just 72% of fathers’ [Note 4], and most UK families depend more on fathers’ earnings, than on mothers’ [Note 5].


Why is this the case? Because gender-imbalance is baked into our current employment policies – effectively enforcing traditionalism at the stage in parents’ careers when their ongoing earner/caregiver roles tend to be decided: the baby’s first year.


When children are born, employed mothers are entitled to 52 weeks’ leave – six paid at 90% of salary and 33 at the statutory rate of £172.48, with a Maternity Allowance of up to the statutory rate for 39 weeks, for those who are not employed.


Employed fathers get just two weeks, paid at the statutory rate. Those not classified as ‘employees’, including dads who are self-employed or work in the gig economy – who make up 20% of fathers in total – have no entitlement.


Aside from paternity leave, the only way for UK fathers to take additional leave is for the mother – if both she and the father are eligible – to share some of her maternity leave with him, via the current shared parental leave system (SPL). It’s clear from the Government’s own evaluation of SPL [Note 6] that this policy is simply not addressing the problem: namely of enabling families to exercise choice over the sharing of caregiving and earning. Only two-fifths of families qualify; and most of those who do can’t afford for the father to take the leave, or don’t want to shorten the mother’s leave. The scheme is used by only 1% of eligible mothers and 5% of eligible fathers [Note 7].


To stand any chance of levelling the playing field, we need a policy package that takes the onus away from mothers to shoulder the responsibility for looking after babies. That’s why our Parliamentary petition, launched in July 2023, calls for improved pay for the existing two weeks of paternity leave, and the introduction of a well-paid ‘daddy month’ of statutory parental leave.


As outlined in our previous blog, it’s father-specific parental leave, rather than more or better paid paternity leave, that holds the key to future reductions in gendered inequality at home and in the workplace.


The current Government shows no sign of budging on their refusal to consider such a policy: they told us as much in their response to our open letter earlier this year.


But if we can reach 10,000 signatures by 10 January, it will show not just the Conservatives but also politicians from the other parties that a sizeable number of people want fathers to have their own right to parental leave, while also forcing a response from the Government to our specific proposal. We’re already more than halfway there, but we need more help to reach the target.

 
What are the political parties' views on this issue?

The good news is that both the main Opposition parties are already in listening mode. Pregnant Then Screwed ran events at the recent Labour and Liberal Democrat party conferences, and the Lib Dems have said they would give all workers, including self-employed parents, a day-one right to parental leave and pay.


Families would receive up to a year of paid parental leave, with each parent receiving six weeks of use-it-or-lose-it leave, and 46 weeks of parental leave to share between themselves as they choose. Parental leave pay would be doubled (after the initial six weeks) to £350 per week - and paternity pay would rise to 90% of earnings, with a cap for high-earners.


Labour has yet to commit to a clear leave package for parents, but it’s due to publish a review of parental leave policy as part of a bigger gender pay gap review, later this year.


If 10,000 people support our petition, Labour would be more likely to include father-specific parental leave in their manifesto, rather than ‘ticking the dad box’ by tinkering with paternity leave.


 
Notes

Note 1: Office for National Statistics, 2022 Note 2: The EU average was 12.7% in 2021. Source: EU Monitor, 12 April 2023. Note 3: Brearley, J. (2022). Mothers are overdue a revolution of their own in Essays on Equality: The Politics of Childcare. Global Institute for Women’s Leadership. King’s College London. Note 4: Link Note 5: Among UK families with at least one working parent, only one mother in five (22%) earns even half the family income; even in families where both parents are in paid work, only a third of mothers contribute half or more. Cory, G. and Stirling, A. (2015). Who’s breadwinning in Europe? A comparative analysis of maternal breadwinning in Great Britain and Germany. London: Institute for Public Policy Research. Note 6: Department for Business & Trade, 2023b. Shared Parental Leave: Evaluation report. BEIS/DBT Research Paper Series Number 2023/010.

Note 7: Maternity Action estimates the actual figure for take-up by fathers to be closer to 2%

 

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