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Increasing paid paternity leave could narrow gender pay gap

Paloma Kubiak
Written By:
Paloma Kubiak

Increasing paid paternity leave to six weeks could reduce the gender pay gap and equalise men and women’s participation in the labour market, a report suggests.

Statutory paternity pay is currently £172.48 a week, or 90% of average weekly earnings (whichever is lower), with paternity leave lasting one, or usually two weeks.

The UK has the least generous paternity leave entitlement in Europe, with the figure just 44% of the National Living Wage.

Compared to other countries with more than six weeks of paid paternity leave, they have a four percentage point smaller gender wage gap, and 3.7 percentage point smaller labour force participation gap than countries offering less than this leave period.

According to the “Leave in the lurch: Paternity leave, gender equality and the UK economy” report from The Centre for Progressive Policy, Pregnant Then Screwed and Women in Data, by helping to close the gender employment gaps, this could increase economic output by £23bn – 1% of GDP.

At the same time, just one in five Brits think two weeks’ paternity leave or less is enough, while the same percentage of dads and partners who are eligible for paternity leave don’t take any time out following the birth of a baby.

For those who went back to work early, 43% cited financial hardship as the reason for not taking their full entitlement. For 63% of recent fathers, they were not mentally ready to return to work when they did.

However, less than one in five prospective parents said they or their partner could afford to take six weeks of paternity leave at the current statutory rate of pay.

But if the six weeks paternity leave was paid at 90% of their income – as statutory maternity pay is for women for the first six weeks – then 57% said they could afford to take this leave entitlement.

Boost to economy and parents’ mental health

A majority (66%) would support an increase beyond the current statutory provision of two weeks and as such CPP and Pregnant Then Screwed are calling on the Government to increase the length of non-transferable paternity leave to a minimum of six weeks and to pay it at 90% of income in line with current statutory maternity pay.

This would enhance existing maternity rights to reduce financial hardship, the gender employment gap, and the gender pay gap. Further, paternity leave should be available to all working dads and partners, they suggested.

Joeli Brearley, CEO and founder of Pregnant Then Screwed, said, “Paternity leave is not a luxury but a necessity. If our next Government wants to set out a positive vision for the future, then thriving families must be central to their campaign. We have the worst paternity benefit in Europe which is negatively impacting children, gender equality and the economy.

“We are calling on the Government to increase the length of non-transferrable paternity leave to a minimum of six weeks at 90% of income, in line with current statutory maternity pay. It is clear from our research that this is what voters want and it is about time we kept pace with other forward thinking nations.’’

Rosie Fogden, head of research and analysis at CPP, said: “While long-held societal norms about gendered parenting roles are shifting, the UK’s parental leave system has not kept pace. It is still very difficult for many fathers and second parents to be able to afford to take leave when their children are born, and this has serious consequences for both parents’ mental health.

“If the UK wants to reduce the gender pay gap and stem the growing demand for mental health services, Government policy must send a strong signal about the importance of both parents’ role in providing childcare from the very beginning of a child’s life. Extending paid paternity leave could also help us to close the gender pay gap, which in turn could boost the economy.”

On Monday 19 June MPs will debate a petition which attracted nearly 40,000 signatures relating to the cost of living and statutory parental pay. It calls on the Government to increase maternity pay in line with inflation.