THE BLOG

Dad's Going to Iceland

17/06/2013 10:37 BST | Updated 19/05/2014 11:59 BST

Fathers' Day is a special day and becoming a dad is a special moment. While advertisers are ramping up their campaigns for golf clubs, sheds and razors, spare a thought for those men about to become fathers for the first time. The joy and euphoria of having a baby is often accompanied by a life-changing shock that means nothing else is ever the same again.

Working dads in Britain are guaranteed just two weeks paternity leave paid at a maximum of £136.78 per week, unless their employers offer them more. But most dads don't even use it. While nine out of ten dads took some time off after their baby was born, only half of the dads who took paternity leave used their full two-week entitlement.

Dads in the UK are also entitled to additional paternity leave - between two and 20 weeks - but this is actually transferrable maternity leave. It is dependent on the mother being in work, being eligible and on being able to persuade dad to use it.

In Norway there is a 12-week paid daddy quota with generous wage replacement rates. The effect of this leave has been dramatic. Before its existence four per cent of fathers took some parental leave, but more recently it's been almost 90%. In Iceland, where there are three months reserved for the mother, three months for the father and three months for them to decide, fathers took on average 103 days leave compared to 178 for mothers.

But Iceland is preparing to go even further. The Icelandic government recently passed legislation to transition to a system of five months maternity leave, five months paternity leave and two months parental leave for parents to decide how to use it by 2016. This will all be paid at relatively high rates of current average wages. Iceland is putting itself on track to having 'the best dads in Europe'.

The evidence all points in this direction. Dads taking time off work after the birth of their child increases their involvement in childcare and has a positive impact on their child's development. There is also evidence to support that dads who take time off do more housework.

Dads 'leaning in' at home makes it easier for mums to 'lean in' at work. To encourage more of this, the Fatherhood Institute has been advocating 'involved fatherhood' while the former MD of Mentore this week called for more 'dadvocacy'. The National Child Care Trust would also be well placed to do this, as it brings men together at a time when they are about to decide how much time to take off.

There is definitely a need to encourage UK dads to use their entitlements but there is also a strong argument for boosting their entitlement. Families would be better supported to make choices that work for them by a more progressive parental leave system. This would not only provide the mother with a leave entitlement sufficient to protect her health and that of her baby, but also support a similar paid entitlement for fathers on a 'use it or lose it' basis. A third bloc of shared parental leave, also paid, could be split by parents in a way that works for them and their family.

A specific 'daddy quota' of leave for dads to use on a use it or lose it basis paid at a generous rate can potentially offer benefits for families. It is already common in Scandinavian countries and many companies are increasingly seeing the benefits of offering paid paternity leave for both the men and women in their organisation.

Reforming parental leave needs to be considered in the wider context of the early years, alongside universal and affordable childcare to offer parents and children choices that work for them. There are of course cost implications. At the moment it is working mums who bear the financial brunt of these in lost earnings and a lack of career progression. Political spending choices will also be necessary to unlocking this agenda, for example billions more a year could come from restricting tax relief for pension contributions to the basic rate.

So it might not be a new pair of socks, or even a toolbox, but a 'daddy quota' could be long-lasting and the best Father's Day present he'll ever have. That way dad might even have time to go to Iceland.

Dalia Ben-Galim is Associate Director at IPPR. She tweets: @IPPR_Dalia