Half of new dads in the UK do not take their full two weeks statutory paternity leave because of financial pressures forcing them to work. This number increases to three quarters of fathers as you move down the income brackets.
The current statutory paternity pay is set at £138.18 per week or 90% of average weekly earnings, whichever is less. This is just a quarter of the average weekly wage for full-time male employees, and over half the weekly wage for a worker earning the National Minimum Wage for a 40 hour week.
Getting ahead in today’s world is difficult for young workers, and not just those fresh out of university, but also workers from anywhere between 20-35 years of age. They struggle to get promoted at a time when people are putting off retirement; they struggle to earn a fair wage at a time when the rise of low pay and zero-hour contracts seeks to destabilise the concept of meritocracy; they struggle to live the family dream and buy their own property and car, both of which require substantial deposits and surplus wage for the purposes of saving. So how are they expected to take time off work if it results in a loss in earnings at a time when they are struggling to save? As a consequence, the seminal life events are being postponed rather than enjoyed.
An olive branch to young workers came this week in the form of Ed Milliband’s promise that a future Labour government would double the amount of paid paternity leave available to new fathers by more than £120 a week to £260. This would enable fathers to spend more time with their new born children and show support to the mother during a happy – but sleep deprived – time as the new family learn to turn their attention on their new arrival.
Undoubtedly it is positive news for employees, as well as employers, who are absolved of any responsibility for improving their support for new fathers. Yet is it all realistic? Firstly a lot depends on whether Labour will achieve election this year, but also a lot depends on the take up from new fathers and if the rules of eligibility aren’t tampered with.
Labour’s announcement comes on the same week the TUC released analysis showing that 40% of working dads with a child under the age of one are ineligible for the new Shared Parental Leave initiative because their partner is not in paid work or are self-employed. The TUC raises fresh doubt on the effectiveness of the new Shared Parental Leave initiative, as well as the take up, at a time when the rights for new fathers is under the spotlight.