As someone who has recently returned to work from paternity leave following the birth of a baby girl, I have gained a new appreciation for this period of leave. At present the current statutory provision in the UK allows new fathers to take 2 weeks of paternity leave paid at the rate of Statutory Paternity Pay which, at the 2017 level, is £140.98 or 90% of their average weekly earnings (whichever is lower).
As with maternity leave, employment rights are protected while you are on paternity leave. This includes the right to pay rises, build up (accrue) holiday and return to work or a suitable alternative of equivalent status and responsibility. Additionally, fathers have the right to time off to accompany the mother to 2 antenatal appointments (enlightening classes where, amongst other things, you get to change nappies on a doll, for guys who are unaware).
Paternity leave has recently come under the spotlight with both the Labour Party and Lib Dems announcing plans to double the length of paid paternity leave ahead of the upcoming General Election. The benefits of paternity leave are numerous:
- Research shows that fathers that have greater involvement in their children’s upbringing is good for child development and beneficial for the health and happiness of the whole family.
- The positive impact on wider society would be a given, with healthier families leading to a stronger society. The most significant indicator of academic attainment is not money but paternal engagement.
- Fathers that have greater involvement enjoy healthier relationships with their partner and children and benefit from better mental health.
- There are also physical benefits for men, with research suggesting greater life expectancy for involved fathers.
- Children who have greater input from their fathers have better relationships in general, higher self-esteem, greater confidence and reduced risk of committing crimes.
Last year was the Year of the Dad, a collaboration between a number of organisations including the Scottish Government to promote the importance of fathers in child development and to support men in becoming better fathers. Gravitate HR also participated in the initiative by hosting a seminar in partnership with Fathers Network Scotland. The seminar last year focussed on Shared Parental Leave (SPL) and the business case for supporting dads at work.
SPL, a policy introduced by the Lib Dems during the days of the coalition government has been in place for 2 years, however uptake of this remains low, at around 5% according to some sources. There may be several reasons why fathers may not want to take advantage of SPL. Larger employers tend to offer over-and-above the statutory minimum for women and as statutory paternity pay is relatively low, some couples would lose out financially in order for the father to stay home. The admin process in arranging SPL can be quite challenging and relies on communication between the employers of both parents. However, Scandinavian countries appear to have an effective approach to SPL and the financial detriment to parents is a lot less acute than it is to those taking the leave within the UK.
As a new father, I have found raising a baby to be an incredibly rewarding and enriching experience and one which no doubt (as I’ve been told by more experienced fathers) will be full of many challenges and surprises along the way. It will be interesting to see how family friendly policies and paternity leave in particular develops over the coming year.