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Experts call on businesses to tackle ‘concerning’ trends in paternity leave uptake

6 Aug 2018 By Emily Burt

Issues around working culture could be deterring men from using family-friendly rights

Organisations must tackle ‘concerning’ trends around paternity leave uptake, experts have warned, as research continues to suggest a number of working fathers are taking less than two weeks off after the birth of their children. 

Figures obtained from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) by law firm EMW, first published today, showed the number of fathers claiming statutory paternity pay (SPP) fell by 3 per cent from 221,000 in 2016-2017 to 213,500 in 2017-2018.

Jon Taylor, principal at EMW, described the low take-up as “a cause of frustration for many young families”.

Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the CIPD, told People Management the fall could be linked to an increase in the number of men working as self-employed and therefore not eligible for SPP. Research from the TUC earlier this year revealed roughly one in four new dads would have been ineligible to claim SPP in 2017-18, partly down to rising levels of self-employment. 

However, Willmott continued: “Taking paid paternity leave can lead to ​fewer absences and help fathers to be more productive when they return. It’s also important to provide flexible working options wherever possible, to help parents share childcare responsibilities and balance work and home.”

Experts have previously cast doubt on HMRC’s SPP rates as a marker for paternity leave uptake. Evidence given to the women and equalities committee during its fathers and the workplace inquiry suggested many companies choose to swallow the relatively small cost rather than claim it back from the taxman, meaning some fathers’ leave is missed from official statistics.

The most recent UK Maternity and Paternity Rights Survey found almost a third of working fathers took less than two weeks, or no time at all, off for parental leave.

According to Dr Katherine Twamley, sociologist at University College London (UCL), that survey also found that middle-income fathers were most likely to take at least the full two weeks off, with highly paid men being marginally less likely to take advantage of their full statutory entitlement.

“I wouldn’t say there are a huge amount of men not taking paternity leave when it is topped up, though CEOs, directors and similar are likely to fall into that category,” she told People Management

However, this national survey was last run in 2010. Since then, a variety of family-friendly rights, including shared parental leave, have been introduced. People Management understands the survey is next due to re-run later this year. 

Research from 2014 by the Institute of Leadership and Management discovered male managers took on average one and a half weeks’ leave, compared with an average of three weeks taken by their more junior colleagues.

Speaking to People Management more recently, Kate Cooper, head of research, policy and standards at the Institute of Leadership and Management, said the research also indicated high-ranking male employees had become accustomed to stories from male bosses who told them “in my day, we had the baby in the morning and went back to work in the afternoon” and were pressured to follow suit.

“That important role modelling was not happening,” Cooper said, adding she hoped “a younger generation will come up and start demanding these things as a right”.

Concerns around career progression seem to play heavily into attitudes towards parental leave. A Deloitte survey of more than 1,000 workers in the US, published in 2016, discovered one in three male respondents were concerned that taking time off to look after a baby would jeopardise their career. 

“Obstacles to the uptake of paternity leave are not just related to the low level of statutory paternity pay but also due to issues about working culture and the traditional views of men and their caring responsibilities in society,” Willmott said.

“To combat this, organisations need to do more to communicate paternity leave and create a culture where it is seen as normal to take it – for example, by encouraging men in senior positions to lead by example and take their leave entitlement in full.” 

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