Equalities watchdog calls for eight weeks paid paternity leave

Statutory maternity pay should be scaled back and fathers should get eight weeks of paid leave, the equalities watchdog has said today.

Outlining a 10-year strategy that would cost £5.3bn a year, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) called for a fundamental change in parental leave by 2020 to tackle the gender pay gap and to prevent employers associating costly parental benefits with women only, damaging their career prospects.

The government should increase statutory paternity leave from two to eight weeks, at 90% of their salary, yet reduce statutory maternity leave from nine months to six months, paying 90% of their salary for all 26 weeks.

However, the government intends to allow fathers to benefit from up to 26 weeks’ paid additional paternity leave from April 2010 if the mother of the child returns to work before the end of the maternity leave period to which she is entitled, under the Work and Families Act 2006. Implementation of this legislation has already been delayed a year.

But in an EHRC report, Working Better, the commission also calls for higher levels of maternity and paternity pay to increase uptake, particularly among men, lone parents and lower income groups. The changes would add £5.3bn a year to the current £2.1bn cost.

Nicola Brewer, chief executive of the EHRC, said: “Flexibility is a tool many British businesses use to unlock talent. Changing the way we approach parental leave could be one way of tackling the gender pay gap. By supporting men to be good fathers as well as good employees, it would also help children do better at school and equip them for the world of work. And it would help families on lower incomes to balance work and the rest of their lives.”

This is not the first time the equalities body has called for an increase in paternity leave. Last year it said fathers should get 12 weeks paid leave to encourage the mother to return to work. And in 2007, employers backed a government consultation which suggested mothers could transfer part of their maternity leave to fathers.

The EHRC Working Better report – in detail:

For fathers:

  • the first two weeks’ paternity leave at the birth of their child would be retained, but at 90% pay
  • four months of dedicated ‘parental leave’ which can be taken after the mother’s six months of maternity leave comes to an end. This right would be available until their child’s fifth birthday
  • at least eight weeks of that leave should be supported at 90 per cent of pay.

For mothers:

  • The first 26 weeks would remain dedicated maternity leave for mothers. The number of weeks paid at 90 per cent pay would be increased from six to 26 weeks
  • After six months, mothers would get the same ‘parental leave’ arrangements as fathers.

For both:

  • Four months of parental leave that either parent can take, at least eight weeks at 90 percent of pay.

Working Better survey results

  • 54% of fathers with children under one said that they felt they spent too little time with their children
  • 76% of women said they have primary responsibility for their children
  • 60% of parents think fathers should spend more time with their children.
  • Flexibility at work is important or very important to 88% of women and 66% of men.

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