Is driver behind the widening parental leave gap a lack of rights in the gig economy?

Could the driver behind the widening parental leave gap be the rise of the gig economy?The already low number of fathers claiming paternity leave has fallen for the first time in five years, to 213,500, down 3 percent from 221,000 last year an analysis by law firm EMW has revealed. To help encourage more men to take paternity leave, the Government launched the shared parental leave scheme in 2015. However, take up of the scheme has also been slow, with less than 2 percent of all UK fathers participating. These latest figures suggest that hundreds of thousands of men are not taking up their entitlement to paternity leave. In comparison with low rates of paternity leave, nearly treble the number of mothers (662,700) took maternity leave in 2017-2018, up from 661,000 in 2016/17. The firm warns that this wide gap between mothers taking maternity leave and fathers taking paternity leave may reinforce the current “status quo” of women predominantly taking charge of child care arrangements. A driver behind the widening gap in recent years may be the lack of parental leave rights in the growing “gig economy”, where workers are more than twice as likely to be male (69 percent) than female (31 percent).

People working in the “gig economy” are typically treated as self-employed contractors, a status which does not offer statutory paternity benefits. The way “gig economy” companies classify their workers may change following a number of legal challenges in this area. The government is also considering implementing Taylor Review recommendations relating to how “workers” are defined in order to better reflect modern working arrangements.

Jon Taylor, Principal in the EMW Employment team says: “The continuing low take up of paternity leave among men is a cause of frustration for many young families. For many fathers working in the ‘gig economy’ taking time off is just not an option.”

“The fact that the majority of workers in the ‘gig economy’ are men, means that the gap between mothers and fathers taking leave is continuing to widen. It’s disappointing to still see such a low turnout of men claiming parental leave, despite several initiatives being launched across both the public and private sector to encourage more men to take it.”

“However, businesses are beginning to do more to offer both men and women more flexible parental leave with many companies embracing flexible work schemes allowing more parents to work from home. Hopefully this will lead to a greater take up among fathers in the future.”