The Government has missed the opportunity to give a rocket boost to fathers taking a greater role in their children’s lives
Published: 29 Jun 2018
After the government’s recent formal response to the Women and Equalities Select Committee ‘Fathers in the Workplace’ Inquiry, father of two Adam Gretton discusses the huge missed opportunity to get father more involved in the care of their children.
I long for the day when society accepts that it’s completely normal for a father to take longer than two weeks off after their baby is born. Worryingly, some dads don’t even get that two weeks.
I finished three-months of Shared Parental Leave (SPL) last year. At the time I was the first man in an organisation of 4,000 employees to do so – and was greeted with words such as ‘admirable’ and ‘pioneering’ for what I was doing. I hoped I was one of a new wave of dads taking time off work to care for their new baby.
But I’m still pretty much the exception to the rule. The government has said that just 3% of eligible fathers are using the scheme. Of course, it is disappointing that more dads aren’t taking up the option, but having spoken to other dads, it’s really not that surprising.
There are lots who think SPL is a great idea and would love to use it, but it doesn’t work for many because of finances (Shared Parental Pay isn’t as ‘generous’ as Statutory Maternity Pay). Underpinning all this is the belief, still alive and well in some sections of society, that dad should be the main breadwinner and mum should take main responsibility for the children.
I feel privileged to have been able to have had that precious family time. However, in reality it was three months unpaid leave, and my wife and I had to dip into our savings just to pay the bills. For many families, using SPL just isn’t a possibility because they simply can’t afford it.
I gave evidence to the Women and Equalities Select Committee’s Fathers and the Workplace inquiry last year about my experience using SPL. The Committee listened to me and the other dads that took part – and the recommendations they made demonstrated an awareness that lots needs to change if dads aren’t to go on being treated as a ‘nice to-do’ in terms of caring for their children.
In particular, the Committee recommended 12 weeks leave for dads in the first year of their child’s life. Crucially, the leave would be paid. This ‘use it or lose it’ leave would have given much needed extra support to families, more fathers would take it up and, along with flexibility be default (another excellent recommendation), equality at home and at work would be a more realistic prospect. Ultimately, it would help kick start the societal change I’m so keen to see.
But the government, despite recognising a need for change, rejected this recommendation in its formal response (announced just before Father’s Day). This was extremely personally frustrating for me, given my involvement in the inquiry. If it is serious about supporting hard working families and closing the gender pay gap by encouraging more fathers to share care, this is a huge missed opportunity and an example of saying one thing and doing another.
I believe society is changing and more dads are taking a greater role in their children’s lives. But this is happening at a snail’s pace, and the government has just missed the opportunity to give it a rocket boost.
Working Families’ Shared Parental Leave pages contain a wealth of information about your options and how SPL works.
Watch our Shared Parental Leave videos which draw on real life accounts of couples taking Shared Parental Leave.