The UK’s parental leave system is letting down working dads by making it unaffordable for them to share care of their children, MPs say.
Parliament’s women and equalities committee is calling on the government to reform workplace policies “to ensure they meet the needs of the 21st century family”.
A special report by the committee has found current policies aimed at supporting working dads fail to deliver on what they promise - particularly for parents on lower incomes - have not done enough to change the wider culture and hinder progress in closing the gender pay gap.
Chair Maria Miller said: “The evidence is clear - an increasing number of fathers want to take a more equal share of childcare when their children are young but current policies do not support them in doing so. There is a historical lack of support for men in this area, and negative cultural assumptions about gender roles persist.”
MPs want Theresa May to consider ensuring paternity pay is given at a rate of 90% of fathers’ full salaries and introducing 12 weeks of standalone fathers’ leave in the first year of a child’s life as an alternative to the current shared parental leave model.
They have also asked for new laws to ensure all jobs are advertised as flexible from day one, and strengthened workplace rights for self-employed and agency workers.
Miller, a former women and equalities secretary, said the government had taken “positive steps forward” but failed to keep up with social changes in people’s everyday lives.
“Outdated assumptions about men’s and women’s roles in relation to work and childcare are a further barrier to change,” she added.
“If we want a society where women and men have equality both at work and at home, I would strongly urge ministers to consider our findings. Effective policies around statutory paternity pay, parental leave and flexible working are all vital if we are to meet the needs of families and tackle the gender pay gap.”
Labour’s Gavin Shuker, who also sits on the committee, said dads’ attitudes towards caring for their children are changing.
“They are carrying out a greater proportion of childcare than ever before but are still doing less than half the childcare that mothers do,” he said.
“We were concerned to hear that men simply don’t feel able to ask their employers for leave or flexible working due to a macho culture or for fear it will harm their career prospects.
“We need to tackle these attitudes. Family-friendly government policies are unlikely to be effective without a cultural shift. It is very important – and only fair – that fathers of all incomes have an equal chance to bond with their children in the same way as mothers.”
Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, which campaigns for equality, said current legislation - which allows parents to share 50 weeks of leave if they meet certain criteria - is “driven by a 1950s model of family life”.
She added: “The antiquated assumption that dad goes back to work while mum stays home to look after the baby bears no relation to what most parents in the UK want.
“We are particularly pleased to see the committee recommend 3 months’ reserved ‘daddy leave’. This leave needs to be paid at a high enough rate so that dads can afford to take it.
“When an employer thinks a man and a woman are equally as likely to take time off to look after the kids, we will begin to address one of the fundamental drivers of the gender pay gap.”
Smethers said she also supported the call to make flexible working “the new norm”.
“It will drive a transformation in workplace culture which will support parents, carers and indeed everyone in the workplace who needs or values flexibility,” she added.
Under the government’s current system, the minister in charge of shared parental leave is unable to take any himself, because the policy does not apply to elected officials.
Ordinarily mums and dads can take it separately, or at the same time, but the total amount used cannot exceed 50 weeks.
Pay for shared parental leave is £140.98 per week or 90% of your average earnings, whichever is lower.