Almost half of parents with young children have been dissatisfied with paternity leave packages, research has found.
The report by Koru Kids, which polled 1,505 parents of children aged five or under, found that 46 per cent of parents were unhappy with their benefits as the majority (76 per cent) of fathers and non-birthing parents were offered only the current minimum statutory requirement of two weeks’ leave by their employers.
The findings revealed that the top reasons for discontent included not being given enough time off (73 per cent), dissatisfaction with pay (59 per cent) and a lack of flexibility upon returning to work (28 per cent).
A third (35 per cent) of parents surveyed also felt employers did not do enough to positively support them or their partner through paternity leave. However, HMRC figures from March revealed that just 204,000 fathers claimed paternity leave in the year 2021-22.
Jane van Zyl, chief executive of Working Families, said it was crucial for businesses to assist fathers in taking care of their new children, and should offer fathers parental coaching, mentoring, buddy systems, parent networks and paid time off for antenatal appointments.
Van Zyl also called for better government support. “The responsibility to support new fathers does not just lie with employers. We strongly recommend that the government increases leave entitlements for fathers and non-birthing partners, offering a non-transferable period of at least six weeks paid at 90 per cent salary,” she said.
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Amanda Trewhella, employment director at Freeths, highlighted that often couples “can’t afford” the luxury of shared parental leave as a result of the gender pay gap, and suggested employers push to provide enhanced paternity leave. She said this would “help to attract fathers and future parents to the business, but also show that the organisation is an inclusive employer that supports and provides opportunities to all new parents regardless of gender”.
Adrienne Burgess, joint CEO and head of research at The Fatherhood Institute, agreed that fathers and non-birthing partners should get a minimum of six weeks’ paid leave in the first year following the birth of a child, and that companies should be open about the benefits they provide. “We’ve been asking for a father-inclusive parenting leave system for years, but it’s still startling just how little progress has been achieved to change the status quo in the UK,” Burgess added.
John Smith, senior associate at TLT, said the study illustrated how paternity benefits “continue to fall short”, but that, while promoting male participation was an “easy win”, it has its downfalls. “Of course, a deterrent for many employers will be the additional costs involved in enhanced benefits, and not all employers can afford to do this,” he said.
The report also highlighted that inadequate paternity leave impacts all pillars of wellbeing: more than half (56 per cent) of parents revealed it negatively affected their mental health; a quarter (24 per cent) stated their physical health suffered as a result; and a third (32 per cent) said they were left feeling financially unstable.
Meanwhile, a separate study by law firm EMW found that 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.
Alan Price, CEO of BrightHR, said employers should make sure that their staff members understand what shared parental leave is and how to apply for it. He added that offering a form of flexible working could be the solution, enabling employees to adjust their working hours or work specifically from home to balance all of their obligations.