Welcoming a new baby into the world means change for everyone in the family. Not for just mother and baby, but Dads to. The UK needs to support new fathers. This last year a measly 10,700 people took shared parental leave, which is just over 1% of the population. In the past it was almost unheard of that fathers would take their full entitlement of two weeks when their child arrived. Now almost all fathers take at least a week’s leave in the UK.
At present men must inform their employer no later than 15 weeks before the expected week of childbirth if they wish to take one or two week’s paternity leave. These weeks can be taken in one block or two separate weeks. Since April 2018, the statutory rate of paternity pay has been £148.68 or 90% of the average weekly earnings whichever is less. Some employers offer a higher rate than statutory paternity pay but it cannot be lower than the minimum figure. The London School of Economics for example offer paternity pay representative of two weeks full salary.
Shared parental leave is also an option. It can be taken at any time from the end of your paternity leave until the baby is one year old. The shared leave can be taken at the same time as the mother, but this will reduce the mothers maternity leave entitlement. Recent studies have shown that shared parental responsibility doesn’t just benefit the children. In Australia research has found cognitive benefits in children who were about to start school whose parents took a long period of parental leave.
With the election season well under way, perhaps a fairer share of parental responsibility and time available for new dads to take would be a worthwhile policy. At the moment if Dads to be want to attend antenatal classes with their partner this time must be unpaid, meaning many simply cannot afford to attend.
Already Labour have issued plans to increase maternity leave pay for up to a year for all mothers, and there are a growing number of companies allowing their employees to take shared or extended parental leave. Despite these forward thinking and admirable proposals, proper consultation is required to ensure the UK economy can cope with this extension and flexibility. Small and medium sized businesses would be particularly effected, as finding a suitable worker, particularly if they work in a specialised capacity could prove highly troublesome. In light of possible changes employers must also be weary of not allowing their staff to take paternity leave, which could give rise to claims of discrimination.