An extra four weeks of paternity leave could stop new dads being "mocked" at work for wanting to care for their children in the first few months, the Liberal Democrats have said.
"Outdated ideas" can prevent dads from getting involved in the crucial first months of a baby's life, the party said as it announced plans to triple protected paternity leave from two weeks to six weeks in its manifesto for next year's general election.
The plans would offer an extra four weeks of paternity leave, which would be reserved exclusively for fathers in a "use it or lose it" approach.
The "daddy-leave" would be on top of the coalition's shared parental leave offer which will allow new parents to split 12 months of leave between them however they like, from April next year.
The move would encourage new dads to be more involved in the "vital" first few weeks and months of a baby's life, said Jo Swinson, the Lib Dems business and equalities minister.
She said men taking more leave could tackle inequality at work, after previously claiming dads get "mocked" for wanting to juggle parenting and working.
"Most dads want to spend more time with their new baby, but can sometimes be discouraged by outdated ideas and cultural barriers in the workplace," Swinson said.
"When parents share caring responsibilities, more equality in the workplace will follow.
"It is a nonsense to think it is only the mother’s job to look after children. Parenting is a shared responsibility."
"Extending paternity leave is an important next step to encouraging new dads to spend more time with their child in those vital early weeks and months after birth."
How much leave do parents currently get?
Most employers allow mothers to take up to 52 weeks of maternity leave, with statutory maternity pay from the government for up to 39 weeks.
Fathers can take up to two weeks of paid leave.
New shared parental leave rules will start in April 2015, meaning that the mother's 52 weeks can be split between the both parents. The first parents eligible for the new shared leave are finding out they are pregnant now.
The Lib Dems says research shows fathers are more like to use paternity leave if it is targeted at them specifically, rather than shared between a father and mother.
Swinson said: "The ‘use it or lose’ it six weeks will establish the important role of dads early on, and encourage couples to use the full flexibility on offer."
Men on Twitter expressed mixed reactions to the plans:
@LouiseRidley It was great to have two guilt-free weeks off work with each of my boys. Not sure six weeks would be quite so guilt-free...— Danny Blackburn (@Danny_Blackburn) August 30, 2014
@LouiseRidley I think you'll get a poor take up....most dad's supplement paternity leave with annual leave to save £££— Marc Blackie (@LordBlackstock) August 30, 2014