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Girls & Women

12 Weeks of Paternity Leave Would Address the Gender Pay Gap, Say MPs

A committee of cross-party MPs wants the government to empower fathers to play the role in their families that they want to play. 

The women and equalities select committee, made up of 11 MPs from different political parties, has called for the government to take inspiration from a Swedish-style system — where fathers would get 12 weeks’ paid “use it or lose it” paternity leave. 

The committee argues that it would help address the gender pay gap in the UK, which is currently far wider between mothers and fathers than it is between women and men in general. 

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“It is still the case that mothers in couple families take on responsibility for twice as much of the childcare, and most of the domestic work, while fathers are more likely to be the main breadwinner,” said the committee’s report, released on Tuesday. 

Over 80% of fathers still work full-time, according to the Guardian, based on the economic activity of fathers in England in April-June 2017. 

The committee launched an inquiry last year that found men were unable or unwilling to take time off work for financial, professional, and cultural reasons. 

With fathers unable to take time off, it’s harder for women to get back to work and it perpetuates stereotypically gendered family roles. 

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Paid paternity leave was only introduced in the UK in 2003, reads the report, and three years ago the government introduced a shared parental leave system. That gives couples the option of sharing 50 weeks of leave entitlement and 37 weeks of pay between them, reported the Guardian

But it’s believed that just 2% of couples take advantage of this system. 

“This historical lack of workplace support for fathers both reflects and reinforces cultural assumptions about traditional gender roles where the father is the breadwinner and the mother is the primary carer,” continued the report. 

“Fathers should not have to wait longer for workplace policies to catch up with the social changes that are taking place in men and women’s lives,” it said. 

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Dr Emma Banister, from Alliance Manchester Business School described shared parental leave as “essentially…part of an important move towards recognising employees as ‘people who have lives’ regardless of their gender identity, parental status, and responsibilities.” 

“At particular transitional points, we can all benefit from workplace support and particular structures in place,” she said, in response to the report. 

Alongside its seven policy recommendations to support fathers’ needs, the committee emphasised that all systems of paternity leave must be available to “men of all incomes.” 

“Parental leave and the gender pay gap are closely linked,” the committee chair, Maria Miller, told the Guardian. “Until we get it right for dads we can’t get it right for mums.” 

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“What all parents want is more flexible working,” she said. “Business listens to the law. We are still in a situation where dads overwhelmingly feel they will be badly thought of for taking shared parental leave — it is seen as a lack of commitment to the job.” 

The seven recommendations made by the committee are:

1. Statutory paternity pay should be set at 90% of father’s pay, and capped for higher earners — to ensure that all fathers, regardless of income, can be at home around the time of their child’s birth. 

2. Fathers who are employees should be eligible for 2-weeks’ paternity leave as a day-one right, similar to maternity leave. 

3. The government should act now to harmonise workplace rights for fathers who are agency workers of self-employed with those workplace rights that employed fathers have, where practical. 

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4. The government should seek to legislate immediately to bring in the prime minister’s call for all jobs to be advertised as flexible from day one, unless there are solid business reasons not to. 

5. Fathers could be entitled to paid time off to attend antenatal appointments. 

6. The government should also analyse the costs and benefits of an alternative politic of 12 weeks paternal leave and pay to replace shared parental leave. 

7. To help drive cultural change in the workplace, the government should consider the benefits of amending the protected characteristics in the Equality Act 2010 to add an additional characteristic of “paternity”. 

The government now has two months to respond to the report. Meanwhile, the results of a review of shared parental leave will be announced by the government later this year. 

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