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What price for time with dad? The UK's £1k-per-father paternity leave gap

As our inboxes and timelines fill with the usual torrent of Father’s Day marketing offers, now’s a good time to reflect on how much value is really attached to dads in the UK. Families across the country will show dads how much they love them this coming weekend, with cards, gifts and breakfast in bed. But what of the politicians whose policies shape how parents navigate our roles as workers and caregivers; and the employers to whom fathers commit so much of their time?

Next week’s second annual Working Dads Employer Awards will celebrate a range of UK organisations offering fathers enhanced (better-than-statutory) paternity benefits. It’s great that some dads are eligible to good chunks of paternity and parental leave, paid at 100% of salary: great for them, their partners and children, and presumably for the businesses in question.


But many employers offer just the statutory minimum – a 2022 survey suggested around three-quarters do so. The UK’s statutory paternity offer, set by Government, was first introduced 20 years ago. Many dads can’t afford to take the leave, which has, in the two decades since its introduction, fallen way behind what’s offered to fathers in many other developed countries.

Our new analysis, detailed below, shows just how big the paternity leave gap has become – a gap which is just part of a major policy jigsaw the next UK Government needs to fix.

 
Paying to 'be there'

As things currently stand, an average-earning UK man working full-time for an employer who pays the statutory rate of paternity pay (£172.48 per week), loses more than £1,000 if he takes two weeks’ paternity leave, compared to what he’d earn if he carried on working. This £1k shortfall (see our calculations below) happens at a point where many families are about to see their earnings fall off a cliff, while the mother takes maternity leave, most of which (after the initial six weeks) is paid at the same low rate. Right now, new parents in the UK face this cost in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis.


As well as their minimal paternity leave rights, fathers in the UK also have no individual right to paid parental leave to look after their babies. They are permitted time off to attend two antenatal appointments, but that time is unpaid. Self-employed, agency and ‘gig worker’ dads get no paid leave. A quarter of fathers on low incomes fall into these categories, according to the 2023 Working Families Index (page 7).


Take-up of shared parental leave, which offers fathers no additional individual right to parental leave, is tiny. The Government hasn’t even bothered to respond to its own 2019 consultation about the scheme – and there are no signs that it plans to do so before the next election.

How much do we value fathers in the UK? Not much, it seems.

 
Fathers' pay in the first two weeks

In Graph 1 below, we summarise what an average-earning man in the UK would earn in his baby’s first two weeks if took the full leave entitlement and was paid the statutory rate; compared to what he would earn if he carried on working without a break, or worked doing a job that paid the National Living Wage.


Our calculations show that if an average-earning, full-time working man took the two weeks’ statutory paternity pay, he would be £1,021.04 worse off, compared to what he’d usually bring home in that time. Here’s how we’ve worked that out:

It’s worth noting that:

  • Statutory paternity pay represents 47% of the National Living Wage (£364.70 per week, assuming a 35-hour week, at £10.42 per hour), and 25% of the average weekly earnings for men working full-time (see above).

  • There are no definitive figures about how many employers pay dads more than the statutory minimum (and if so how much), but a 2022 survey found that 76% of employers were sticking to the statutory two-week offer.

Graph 1: Monetary value of two weeks’ worth of statutory paternity pay, national living wage and average male full-time earnings in the UK

 
How do we compare to other countries?

When the UK introduced statutory paternity leave in 2003, leave for fathers was not part of an EU-wide standard offer. Twenty years later, that’s changed. According to the OECD Family Database, which describes and ranks different countries’ parenting leave offers, the amount of leave reserved for fathers – including paternity and parental leave – is now 8.5 weeks on average for countries in the EU, and 10.4 weeks for OECD countries (as at December 2022).


In some countries, fathers are eligible to more than 3 months’ worth of paternity and/or reserved parental leave pay. These include Japan (31.9 weeks) and Korea (25.2 weeks), and – within the EU – the Slovak Republic (21 weeks), Luxembourg (19.4 weeks), Spain (16 weeks), Norway (15 weeks), Iceland (14.3 weeks) and Portugal (12.5 weeks).


See Graph 2 below, which shows how many weeks’ worth of fully paid leave fathers have access to in the Top 10 countries, and in the UK.

Graph 2: Number of fully paid weeks of paternity and ‘dad only’ parental leave in the Top 10 countries, and the UK


If we look just at paternity leave (which must be taken at the time of the birth, when the mother is still off work), the amount of time available to British (two weeks) is low, but not unusually so. Apart from Spain, which is unusual in offering dads 16 weeks’ paternity leave paid at 100% of salary, most developed countries offer quite short periods of paternity leave, ranging from one to five weeks.

But there’s often a better rate of pay than in the UK, and as we’ve seen above, in many cases the dads are eligible to reserved and well-paid parental leave on top.


Graph 3 below focuses on paid paternity leave only, in the Top 5 countries, compared to the UK.


Graph 3: Number of full paid weeks of paternity leave in the top 5 countries, and the UK


There are, in fact, only three countries in the OECD Family Database rankings which offer men a worse deal when they become fathers: the USA, Israel and New Zealand. Dads in those countries get no time off at all.

 
Making the system better

As governments in many other countries have acknowledged in their statutory paternity offers, paternity leave is just one of several pieces in the parenting leave policy jigsaw. Parental leave reserved for fathers is also important, because it supports fathers to build close attachments with their infants, and become confident, independent caregivers.


In our Daddy Leave working paper, published last year, we outlined our ideas for how the UK’s parenting leave system could be reformed. We’re not the only ones who are calling for change: Maternity Action and the Fabian Society have published their own ideas, and Pregnant Then Screwed – which has already come out in favour of six weeks’ well-paid leave for fathers – is set to publish a new report on the subject this week.


All these organisations recognise that a better system requires more, and better paid, support for fathers – if only as a means to closing the gender pay gap.


In Daddy Leave, we set out how in a better system:

  • Dads would have their own individual entitlement to six weeks’ well-paid leave in their child’s first year: two weeks’ paternity leave (taken at the time of the birth) and four weeks’ parental leave (taken within the first year, ideally solo).

  • All this leave would be paid at a high salary replacement level – ideally 90% (like mums get for the first six weeks), with a cap for higher earners. And there would be a Paternity Allowance, to provide help for fathers who don’t qualify for these paid leaves – including self-employed dads.

  • As an absolute minimum, the existing two weeks of paternity leave would be paid at 90%. Right now, it’s not even paid at the level of the National Living Wage. What does that say about the value we attach to men’s hands-on involvement as fathers?

A better parenting leave system would cost money. But the benefits – for our children, for our children’s mothers, for gender equality and for national productivity, as well for fathers themselves – could be huge. We will continue to push for change, and welcome the prospect of working with other organisations who share our vision.

 

How can you help?

  • Support our campaign for six weeks’ well-paid leave for dads, by taking our poll

  • If you work for a small or medium sized employer, share your experience of navigating the financial and other pressures of early parenthood by taking our Transition to Parenthood survey

  • If you’ve missed out on paternity leave, because you couldn’t afford to take it, or weren’t eligible, and would be happy to share your story, please email our Head of Impact and Communications Dr Jeremy Davies at j.davies (at) fatherhoodinstitute.org

  • Sign up for our newsletter via our website

  • Share this blog with your networks, using the #timewithdad hashtag

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