Working fathers are being let down by workplace policies, claims Government report

The Government’s Women and Equalities Committee has published its report on fathers in the workplace. Its main conclusion is that current policies supporting fathers in the workplace do not deliver what they promise, despite good intentions and this is particularly the case for less well-off fathers. It claims that the Government must reform workplace policies to ensure they meet the needs of the 21st century family and to better support working dads in caring for their children, say MPs. The report concludes that the right to request flexible working has not created the necessary cultural change and the Government itself admitted to the inquiry that its flagship shared parental leave scheme will not meet its objective for most fathers.

The report comes as the deadline approaches for gender pay gap reporting. The Government says that fathers taking a more active role in caring for their children is a key way of ending the ‘gender pay gap’.

Main recommendations

  • Statutory paternity pay should be paid at 90 percent of the father’s pay (capped for higher earners) to help ensure that all fathers, regardless of income, can be at home around the time of their child’s birth
  • The Government should consider the costs and benefits of introducing a new policy of 12 weeks’ standalone fathers’ leave in the child’s first year as an alternative to shared parental leave when it reviews the policy this year
  • The Government should legislate immediately to make a reality the Prime Minister’s call for all jobs to be advertised as flexible from day one, unless there are solid business reasons not to
  • The Government should harmonise workplace rights for fathers who are agency workers or self-employed with those for employed fathers where practical – for example by introducing paternity allowance similar to maternity allowance.

Chair of the Committee, Maria Miller MP, 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. While the Government has taken positive steps forwards and has good intentions, workplace policies have not kept up with the 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“Outdated assumptions about men’s and women’s roles in relation to work and childcare are a further barrier to change. 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.”

Committee member, Gavin Shuker MP, said: “Fathers’ attitudes to 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. 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.”

Responding to the report, Sarah Jackson, Chief Executive of charity Working Families said: “For years mothers have downgraded their careers, and now fathers, desperate to take an active part in family life, are beginning to do the same, saying ‘no’ to a new job or turning down a promotion. This ‘parenthood penalty’ must be reversed.

“Introducing the Committee’s key recommendations – properly paid paternity leave that’s a day one right for fathers, and introducing paternity allowance for self-employed fathers, for example – would send a strong signal from government about the integral role of fathers in their child’s first year. There’s no reason why the Committee’s call for new, extended paternity leave shouldn’t be introduced alongside rather than in place of the Shared Parental Leave scheme, offering maximum choice to families.

“Crucially, the Committee recognises that efforts to enable father involvement will fail if, upon their return to work, fathers cannot work part-time or flexibly because those jobs simply aren’t available and their workplace culture is hostile to their ambition to share care of their children.  Building on the Prime Minister’s call for flexibility by default, the Committee’s call for legislation to help bring this about is welcome.”