Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

A better deal for dads and mums

As someone who has tried recently to persuade their husband to take additional paternity leave, I’m all too familiar with the barriers which stand in the way of more dads taking paternity leave.

A TUC report this week highlights that less than one per cent of dads are taking advantage of changes that allow them to take up to 26 weeks’ additional paternity leave and receive additional statutory paternity pay if a mother returns to work before taking her full maternity leave.

I am not surprised this figure is so low given my own recent experience. Cultural factors and the level of paid leave mean that fathers get a raw deal. Lengthy service requirements, low levels of pay and restrictive eligibility criteria for statutory paternity leave and pay mean many fathers miss out. Yet paternity and parental leave are central to involved fatherhood and involved fatherhood is central to gender equity and family stability. Researchers in Sweden have shown that for every additional month of leave taken by a father, his partner’s annual income increases by seven per cent. The first 2-3 months of fatherhood can affect the way that a father relates to his child for the rest of their lives and the taking of parenting leave by fathers is good for the whole family.

That’s why it is disappointing that, while measures being brought in by the government as part of the children and families bill going through parliament at the moment are a step in the right direction, they are too weak and a missed opportunity. The government’s own figures show that only between two and eight per cent of eligible fathers will take up shared parental leave, and that this figure will be closer to two per cent, mirroring their failure on additional paternity leave take-up.

So what could a better deal for dads and mums look like? One way to improve take-up of paternity leave would be to make it a ‘use it or lose it’ right – on the continent this has led to big increases in the number of fathers taking it up. Labour should look at ways to boost the amount of paternity leave reserved just for fathers from two to four weeks. Increasing this father’s quota would recognise the important role that each parent can play and encourage a change in culture. More flexible part-time leave, part-time pay so mums and dads can return to work part-time and take their leave part-time would help too.

We also need to look creatively at how we can improve the level of paternity pay to make it a more realistic option for fathers.

A radical approach would be to look at schemes to share pay between mothers and fathers, initially in the public sector. The public sector is a huge employer and I’d like to see the next Labour government trailing shared pay so if a mother returns to work her partner could share the remainder of her paid leave at this higher rate which would make shared leave a more affordable option. This scheme would not cost the Treasury and would be a way to boost the number of dads taking leave. It would also provide an example to the private sector which could be further rolled out in time.

This government has presided over a squeeze in living standards which means that parents, and particularly fathers who are working even longer hours to support young families, are struggling with a cost of living crisis. Radical policies tailored to the needs of families should be a central part of a One Nation Labour package to tackle the cost of living crisis and give working parents a better deal.


Lucy Powell is MP for Manchester Central and a vice-chair of Progress


Photo: AnonMoos

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Lucy Powell MP

is shadow minister for the Cabinet Office, member of parliament for Manchester Central and a vice-chair of Progress


  • Don’t we need much more radical proposals for sharing leave (i.e. the same reserved periods for mothers and fathers as well as a period that couples can decide between themselves how to share) to communicate to fathers that they are equal parents with mothers? And to enable women to crash through the glass ceiling? But the idea of sharing contractual (i.e. non statutory) maternity pay is an excellent one, and one that I was very keen to explore when I chaired the Fatherhood Institute.

  • This is naturally a left-wing cause, and specifically an anti-Thatcherite one. Only a generation ago, a single manual wage provided the wage-earner, his wife and their several children with a
    quality of life unimaginable even on two professional salaries today.

    This impoverishment has been so rapid and so extreme that most people, including almost all politicians and commentators, simply refuse to acknowledge that it has happened. But it has indeed happened. And it is still going on.

    If fathers matter, then they must face up to their responsibilities, with every assistance, including censure where necessary, from the wider society, including when it acts politically as the State.

    A legal presumption of equal parenting. Restoration of the tax allowance for fathers for so long as Child Benefit is being paid to mothers. Restoration of the requirement that providers of
    fertility treatment take account of the child’s need for a father. (There is no point saying that Labour abolished the second and third of those. The point now is that the Tories are doing nothing to put them back in place.)

    For repeal of the ludicrous provision for two women to be listed as a child’s parents on a birth certificate, although even that is excelled by the provision for two men to be so listed. (There is no point saying that Labour introduced, etc.)

    And for paternity leave to be made available at any time until the child was 18 or left school, thereby reasserting paternal authority, and thus requiring paternal responsibility, at key points in childhood and adolescence. Of course a new baby needs her mother. But a 15-year-old
    might very well need her father, and that bit of paternity leave that he has been owed these last 15 years.

    That authority and responsibility require an economic basis such as only the State can ever guarantee, and such as only the State can very often deliver. And that basis is high-wage, high-skilled, high-status employment. All aspects of public policy must take account of this
    urgent social and cultural need.

    Not least, that includes energy policy: the energy sources to be preferred by the State are those providing the high-wage, high-skilled, high-status jobs that secure the economic basis of paternal authority in the family and in the wider community. So, nuclear power. And coal, not dole.

    Moreover, paternal authority cannot be affirmed while fathers are torn away from their children and harvested in wars. Especially, though not exclusively, since those sent to war tend to come from working-class backgrounds, where starting to have children often still happens
    earlier than has lately become the norm. Think of those very young men whom we see going off or coming home, hugging and kissing their tiny children.

    You can believe in fatherhood, or you can support wars under certainly most and possibly all circumstances, the latter especially in practice today even if not necessarily in the past or in principle. You cannot do both.

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