The union has called for statutory paternity pay and Shared Parental Pay to be increased to at least minimum wage levels.
Just 9,200 new parents took SPL in 2018. The TUC claims that because the scheme is so low paid (£145.18 per week) it is an unaffordable option for most fathers.
Under the existing system parents can only take SPL when the mother gives up part of her maternity leave. The TUC is calling for fathers and second parents to have their own leave available from day one of their jobs – including those who are self-employed, agency workers and on zero-hours contracts.
High numbers of fathers in insecure work, such as agency workers and those on zero-hours contracts as well as the self-employed, are not currently eligible for the scheme, the union highlighted. Increasing the current statutory paternity leave period of two weeks and extending the leave to all fathers, including those who are self-employed, agency workers or on zero-hours contracts, could benefit almost 500,000 fathers, it claimed.
“Shared Parental Leave needs overhauling. It's not an affordable option for most working families. Without better rights to well-paid leave many new parents will continue to miss out on spending time with their children. And mums will continue to take on the lion's share of caring responsibilities,” said TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady.
“If ministers are serious about getting men more involved after their child is born they should give all dads longer better-paid paternity leave. Dads need leave they can take in their own right. It shouldn't rely on mums giving up some of their maternity leave.”
CEO of Working Families Jane van Zyl said that she supported the proposed reforms and added that employers that can afford to should also contribute. "Shared Parental Leave has been an important step forward when it comes to encouraging more fathers to take leave and tackling the gender pay gap," she told HR magazine.
"However, the scheme could be strengthened to make it more accessible to more families. Working Families has long called for SPL to be better paid, to be a day-one right, and to be extended beyond employees to workers and the self-employed. And we encourage employers who can afford it to top up Shared Parental Pay. We also think the government can and should go even further; with a properly-paid period of independent leave for fathers alongside SPL."
Neil Tonks, legislation manager at MHR, commented that the gender pay gap is partially responsible for poor uptake of SPL: “The low level of payment for Shared Parental Leave was always going to be the stumbling block when it came to take-up. It’s also a symptom of the gender pay gap.
“In far too many families the male partner is the higher earner so it doesn’t make financial sense for him to take time off to care for the baby while the lower-earning mother returns to work,” he said.
“The government has spoken in the past about increasing the flexibility of the system but unless the core problem of unaffordability is tackled take-up will likely remain very low, and fathers will continue to miss out on time spent with the new addition to the family.”