New paternity rights do not address take-up or gender pay gap, warn campaign groups

Campaign groups have warned that the government’s new paternity rights do not go far enough to encourage fathers to take leave or reduce the gender pay gap.

Earlier this week, the government announced fathers would be entitled from April 2011 to take six months’ paternity leave in the second six months of his child’s life – so long as the mother had returned to work.

But Rob Williams, chief executive of the Fatherhood Institute, told Personnel Today take-up would be low unless the government introduced well-paid, non-transferable leave for fathers.

He said: “We don’t expect many men to take up the opportunity as it’s very poorly paid. In most families, the father is earning more, so when he gives up work it hits family budgets more. To get a large number of men taking leave, we need an allowance just for them and we need it to be well paid.”

He suggested the government adopt a system like that in Norway, where men get three months’ leave paid at 80% of their salary – 90% of men in Norway use their paternity entitlements.

Last week, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development also warned uptake of the new entitlement would be poor because statutory pay of £123 per week was “not attractive to the vast majority of fathers”. Many fathers already chose to take annual leave when their baby was born, rather than their current two weeks’ paternity leave, so as not to lose pay, a spokesman said.

The Regulatory Impact Assessment, published by the government, estimated 239,000 fathers would be eligible for new paternity rights, but predicted only between 4-8% of those eligible would take up the offer.

Liz Gardner, a policy officer at Working Families, agreed with Williams that paternity leave should be non-transferable and warned “if both parents can use it, experience will dictate that women will use it.”

Gardner added the new provisions would require mothers and fathers wishing to share parental leave to fill in a self-certification form, which would go to both employers, to declare when their baby was due to be born and how much leave each parent was expecting to take.

But she added employers could do more to help fathers take advantage of parental leave.

“A lot of employers will top up women’s statutory pay with a contractual rate and we want to see them doing that for fathers as well,” she said. “Employers have to start thinking about fathers in the workplace and put the right policies in place.”

Provisions to extend paid maternity leave from nine months to a year have been temporarily shelved by the government due to financial restraints.

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