14/08/2014 16:52 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

Paternity Leave: Who Could Afford To Take A 'Daddy Month'?

Paternity leave: Who could afford to take a 'Daddy Month'?

Paternity leave – it's a good thing, isn't it? Dads should get to spend more time with their children. You can't argue with that.

So the proposals this week from the Liberal Democrats to give fathers a "Daddy Month" where they get four weeks of leave in the first year of their baby's life seem pretty good.

Imagine a whole month, where you could spend time together as a family, getting to know your new addition. Amazing - another pair of hands for a whole four weeks. Somebody to share the sleepless nights, the feeds and the nappies. Somebody to let you have a shower and a nap. It sounds idyllic.

Except. There's got to be a catch, hasn't there? Well, actually, there are several. Sorry to be a killjoy.

I'm not sure what planet Nick Clegg is on – nobody knows – but as any parent who has to pay attention to their budget knows, paternity leave is currently "paid" at just £136.78 a week.

That makes it completely unaffordable for many parents – already facing a huge drop in income due to the mother being on maternity leave.

When our first daughter was born, we couldn't afford paternity leave. I was on statutory maternity pay. My husband took a combination of holiday and lieu time for two weeks. When our second daughter came along, he took one week's paternity leave and a week's holiday.

I know we're not alone in this. Sarah, 41, from Yorkshire, says: "My husband took a week's leave with both children. We couldn't have afforded paternity leave! Then my mum came and helped for a few days."

So is Prince William the only father in the country who can actually afford to take two weeks of actual paternity leave?

In fact, figures released last week show that the growth in the number of men taking paternity leave has ground to a halt.

A total of 202,000 men took statutory paternity leave in the last year, up only one per cent from the previous year.

And how many women took maternity leave in the same period? Around 625,000, according to EMW, the commercial law firm.

Even with my rusty grasp of mathematics I can work out that's around 400,000 men who didn't take paternity leave last year.

Jon Taylor, Principal at EMW, says: "Household incomes are under a lot of pressure at the moment. Unless the economy improves or the paternity pay increases we may not see a further substantial rise in the number of men taking paternity pay.

"The current level of paternity pay on offer is significantly lower than the minimum wage, and a lot of men are simply unable to absorb the financial hit of losing a significant percentage of their salary for two weeks, especially when they are dealing with the costs associated with having a newborn baby."

Fathers are already allowed to take additional paternity leave of up to a total of 26 weeks – again, at the statutory rate of £136.78 a week.

Do you know how many dads actually take additional paternity leave? Less than one per cent, according to a recent TUC study.

But wait. The Lib Dems are proposing to double the amount men are paid for this "Daddy Month". So they'd get £273.56 a week. That sounds a lot better, doesn't it?

It is a lot better. It's still well below the average weekly earnings of £506 though, keeping it unaffordable for many. And nobody's really sure how the Government would pay for this, given that they're cutting everything else.

Then there's the other thing. Quite a big thing. Lots of fathers aren't actually eligible for paternity leave. If you've recently started a new job, or if you're one of the million or so people on a zero hours contract, you don't have a right to paternity leave at all.

Cathy, 32, from South London, says: "As my husband and I have also just found out, not everybody qualifies for paternity leave. As he has just taken a new job he is not entitled to anything; fortunately his employer is very sympathetic and is allowing him to take a mixture of holiday and unpaid leave. We are hugely fortunate that our combined income makes this possible."

So, are there any more problems with this lovely "Daddy Month"? Well yes, there are. Sorry to be so negative. Nick Clegg says fathers should take this month of leave – or lose their entitlement altogether.

So you couldn't take a week or two of paternity leave, and a bit of holiday and a bit of lieu time. No. You have to take the full month – or nothing.

The plan is apparently based on the Swedish model, where fathers must take two months of paternity leave; but that's paid at 80 per cent of their usual salary, significantly more generous than the Lib Dems' proposals.

The Lib Dems think their plans will encourage more dads to take up paternity leave. Hmm.

What do you think? A step in the right direction or electioneering?

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