Uptake of paternity leave has dropped to a 10-year low, with only a quarter of new dads choosing to take it, a new report has found, spelling trouble for gender equality and new parents’ work-life balance.
The report by law firm EMW found that just 27 per cent of eligible fathers were taking up the offer of leave.
Just over 170,000 men took paternity leave in the year to March 2021, compared to more than 650,000 women who took maternity leave during the same period, and down from 213,500 men who took paternity leave between March 2017 and March 2018.
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Jon Taylor, principal at EMW, highlighted that with many household finances squeezed because of the impact of Covid, many new dads have opted to forgo their leave.
“For a lot of men, taking paternity leave has become a luxury they can’t afford during the pandemic,” he said. “At a time of huge pressure on household finances, volunteering for a pay cut to £152 a week just isn’t viable for many people.”
According to the report, working from home is likely to have had an impact on the figures, with those fathers being able to see their children while working at home. Furlough may also have allowed fathers to see more of their newborn children.
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The firm also said that the current parental leave system was not working as intended, with the low rate of paternity pay on offer being the major barrier to increased take-up.
“If the government is aiming to increase use of paternity leave, bringing the level of pay closer to the National Minimum Wage would be a good first step,” said Taylor.
Commenting on the findings, Suki Sandhu OBE, founder and CEO of Audeliss, said: “While disappointing, the statistics don’t come as a shock. While the amount of money paid to new parents is a factor in the uptake of paternity leave, the larger issue is that of ingrained bias.
“To resolve this issue, companies must look to begin encouraging and implementing advantageous paternal policies which dismiss the ‘traditional’ theory that it would be women staying at home, and instead allow for a much more equal sharing of child-rearing responsibilities.”
A separate study by the CIPD last year which surveyed more than 600 men found that three-quarters felt there was stigma attached to taking paternity leave, with nearly all agreeing the workplace culture needed to change.
The report also found that flexible working was appealing to the majority of men surveyed, who said it increased the likelihood of them staying with their current employer and increased their motivation to work.
And almost three-quarters of men polled said they would like to have more information from their employer about paternity rights and the organisation's employment policies.
The EMW report added that “paternity leave has a wide range of benefits for all involved. It allows fathers to bond with their children and allows families to spread the childcare burden.
“Fathers being allowed to take paternity leave is also good for businesses, fostering better employee mental health as new fathers feel supported to take time off and are not forced to prioritise work ahead of their families.”