Every family is different, and expectations of the roles parents play change over time. Thankfully, today, most dads increasingly expect to play a more present role in the life of their children. But government (and parliament) have struggled to keep pace with this welcome social change.
As an MP, I have benefitted from a degree of flexibility in being able to structure my week in such a way as to make (at least some) of the school runs, to be present in my own child’s early years, and even to bring my daughter into work. But that level of flexibility is not available to most, and especially not for those on low incomes.
So today our Women and Equalities Committee publishes its report into Fathers in the Workplace and the conclusion is clear – working dads are being failed by current workplace policies. We present concrete recommendations; an action plan for government to follow to rebalance caring responsibilities and help keep families growing together.
As a committee we took evidence from numerous fathers in work outlining the practical difficulties in being present in their childrens’ lives. Men taking less demanding or lower paid jobs as the only route to flexibility was increasingly common. Fathers using their holiday allocation to attend important events like scans or even birth, despite these protections being in law, were another feature.
Even recent innovations, such as the Government’s flagship policy of shared parental leave are scarcely known about by most working fathers. Our Committee has set out a number of ways the Government can update our working practices for the 21st Century – which will also have a positive effect on women and the wider economy.
Firstly, we need to make time away from the workplace pay, with paternity pay paid at 90% of the regular rate. This would allow fathers to be able to be present in those formative first weeks without lumbering a new family with less money at just the same time as costs increase.
The Government has itself admitted it will not meet its target on shared parental leave. So we recommend the cost and benefits of introducing a new policy of 12 weeks standalone fathers’ leave in a child’s first year be assessed, so we can make an informed decision on extending this in this parliament.
In higher paid, professional jobs, the flexibility that allows dads to be more present is becoming increasingly widespread. But for lower income families, the challenge is much more stark. We must make sure that support for fathers extends to those men who earn less, or have less security - harmonising workplace rights for fathers who are agency workers or self-employed.
It’s now time for the Prime Minister’s own call for jobs to be advertised as flexible from day one unless there is a compelling business case against, to be enacted.
We know the gender pay gap is still far too wide, but we won’t tackle it through reporting alone. Allowing men the flexibility to help more effectively with childcare is one way of reducing it.
We know that children who receive care from more than one parent benefit hugely. The pattern of caregiving set in a child’s first year continues to have an effect all the way through their childhood, which is why these reforms are so necessary - and not just for men, but their partners, children and our society as a whole.
Gavin Shuker is the Labour and Co-operative MP for Luton South, and a member of the Women and Equalities Select Committee