THE BLOG

Daddy Daycare?

02/02/2015 17:16 GMT | Updated 04/04/2015 10:59 BST

Almost one million men are now working part time according to the latest figures. Many of these men are dads working part time because of childcare responsibilities. And in just a few months from now some new dads will have more options in how they use their parental leave. The new scheme will allow parents to share leave after their child is born, allowing more mothers to return to work - but the question is how many dads will take this leave?

Mothers will be able to transfer up to 50 weeks of maternity leave to a partner. Polling on public attitudes towards shared parental leave, found that radical gender change might well be on the horizon. Over half of those surveyed think that childcare should be shared by both parents, assuming money isn't an issue; with another fifth of respondents answering that 'each set of parents should have the right to choose according to their circumstances.' Indeed, the Government are confident that it will contribute to wider change with the research showing that 4 in 5 considering having children in the future will consider taking shared parental leave.

But the reality is somewhat different. The Government's own projections estimate that only 2-8% of eligible fathers are likely to take some 'shared parental leave' when it becomes available. This is worrying as it seriously undermines the objective of ensuring that fathers have the opportunity to spend time with their baby and family.

Since 2011, mothers have been able to transfer up to 26 weeks of their maternity leave to fathers. This has generally been paid at a statutory rate (£138.18 per week) or unpaid. In theory, this leave has greatly enhanced the ability of families to combine work and caring responsibilities, creating conditions in which men and women can share both more equitably. Yet, in practice, a relatively small proportion of fathers have used this entitlement.

In fact, the TUC suggest that less than 1 per cent of fathers took this leave in its first year. The low take-up can be partly explained by the low rate of statutory pay, but is also because this leave is actually transferrable maternity leave - it is dependent on the mother both being in work and being willing and able to transfer her leave to the father. Given the gender pay gap, many families will make financial decisions that will mean most stick with the status quo, with mums at home and dads at work.

The configuration of maternity, paternity and parental leave inevitably has a significant impact on women's employment decisions. In Denmark, where a year of paid parental leave is on offer and there is no gap between the end of the parental leave period and an entitlement to childcare there is a relatively high maternal employment rate and low gender pay gaps. But in the UK, where there is a gap between the end of parental leave and the beginning of an early-years entitlement, there tends to be average maternal employment rates and high gender pay gaps.

A specific 'daddy quota' of leave for fathers, to use on a use-it-or-lose-it basis and paid at a generous rate, can potentially offer benefits for families. It is already common in Scandinavian countries, and an increasing number of companies across the OECD are reaping the benefits of offering paid parental leave to both the men and women in their organisations. It has proven effective not only in encouraging fathers to take a period of leave, but in weakening the motherhood pay penalty. It gives parents more opportunity to spend time with their families as well as maintaining their connection to work.

IPPR has long argued that the introduction of a 'daddy quota' would strengthen fathers' entitlements and protect family time in a child's first year. This, alongside a change in parental leave, would provide a period of maternity leave to protect the health of mother and baby and then a more genuinely flexible parental leave that actually gives parents choice rather than a transferrable leave based on a mother's eligibility.

Together this could form a real shift in the gender revolution, making a radical gender change a reality.