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Government's split paternity leave reform slammed as missed opportunity

The government’s reforms to paternity leave and pay have been criticised as inadequate and a missed opportunity to reduce gender inequality by charities and experts.

An open letter headed up by charity the Fatherhood Institute has criticised the government's response to its 2019 consultation published in June which unveiled plans to let fathers split their paternity leave into two blocks of one week.   

The letter, co-signed by more than 30 people including Fawcett Society CEO Jemima Olchawski and Joeli Brearley, founder and director of Pregnant Then Screwed, said the announcement failed to address any of the problems raised by the consultation. 

It reads: “We believe your announcement demonstrates a failure to acknowledge extensive evidence about the importance of fathers’ role in the early weeks and months, about the unaffordability of the current system, and about the potential [...] to bring economic benefits through reduced gender pay and labour participation gaps.”  

More on paternity leave:

Flexible paternity leave plans announced by government

Fathers can't afford paternity leave, finds TUC

Shared parental leave inequalities lead to unpopularity in UK

Research from charity Pregnant Then Screwed found one in five fathers cannot afford to take paternity leave, which is paid at £172.48 a week, or 90% of average weekly earnings (whichever is lower).  

Of those who could afford to take leave, 43% returned early due to financial pressures.  

Brearley, who also contributed to the original consultation, said the government’s reforms will not address financial issues surrounding paternity leave. 

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “We have the worst paternity benefit in Europe which is negatively impacting children, gender equality and the economy.  

“The long-awaited recommendation to spread out the measly two weeks leave won't change this - it is incredibly disappointing to see that this fails to address the real issues that families are facing.” 

Brearly said the government should increase the length of non-transferrable paternity leave to a minimum of six weeks at 90% of income. 

She added: “If the government is serious about investing in parental leave - then properly ring-fenced and funded paternity leave is the first step." 

CPP research published in June 2023 found closing all gender employment gaps would result in a £23 billion boost to the economy.  

Ben Franklin, director of research and analysis at the Centre for Progressive Policy (CPP) said improved paternity leave could help close the gender pay gap, which has remained at 9.4% since 2017 according to the Office for National Statistics. 

Speaking to HR magazine, he said: “Improving paternity leave and pay would send a strong signal about the importance of both parents’ role in providing childcare from the very beginning of a child’s life.  

“It could also help us to close the gender pay gap, which in turn could boost the economy.” 

Employers need to step up in the absence of sufficient government reform, according to Alesha De-Freitas, head of gender equality charity The Fawcett Society. 

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: "In the absence of new statutory entitlements, we need to see all employers offering decent parental leave policies to both parents. 

“This must come alongside a culture shift which genuinely encourages men to take the leave without worrying about the impact on their careers or pay.” 

De-Freitas added that reforming parental leave could be a powerful way to address limiting gender roles.   

“This early experience of caring for their babies shifts the outdated social norms which say that this is a 'woman's job'.  

“That gives more women the opportunity to share the load equally at home, and will shift the culture in the workplace towards ensuring that it works for families, whomever is doing the caring."