The low rate of statutory paternity pay has deterred fathers from taking time off during the pandemic, a law firm has claimed, with take-up of paternity leave falling to a 10-year low.
Only 27% of eligible fathers took time off last year; 176,000 men took paternity leave and claimed statutory paternity pay in the 12 months to 31 March 2021 compared with 652,000 women who took maternity leave over the same period.
The data was released by HM Revenue & Customs following a Freedom of Information request by law firm EMW.
In 2019-20, before the pandemic hit, 208,000 men took paternity leave. In 2018-19, this figure was 203,000.
EMW said that the decline in take-up of paternity leave was likely due to the low rate of statutory paternity pay, which is £152 per week, combined with the financial pressure of the pandemic.
It has called on the government to increase statutory paternity pay to a level closer to the national minimum wage as a “good first step” to tackling the low take-up of paternity leave.
“For a lot of men, taking paternity leave has become a luxury they can’t afford during the pandemic,” said Jon Taylor, principal at EMW. “At a time of huge pressure on household finances, volunteering for a pay cut to £152 a week just isn’t viable for many people.”
Working from home was also likely to have affected the number of new fathers taking leave, EMW said, with many men being able to care for their children between work tasks. Furlough may have also had an impact.
Taylor added: “The well-meaning policy of shared parental leave is not working as it should. The rate of fathers taking up paternity leave has remained stubbornly low for years and has now actually started to decline.”
The government has estimated that take-up of shared parental leave among eligible couples is between 2% and 8%, but campaign group Maternity Action has claimed that it is only around 3-4%.
Earlier this year John Lewis Partnership became one of the first UK retailers to equalise paid leave for all parents. People who have been at the company for a year will be offered 26 weeks paid leave when they have a baby – 14 of which will be at full pay and 12 weeks at 50% of pay.