Policy must catch up with changing gender roles in British householdsby Maria Miller / April 6, 2018 / Leave a comment
On the third anniversary of its Shared Parental Leave scheme, the government should be commended for its attempts to spread childcare responsibilities more equally—but further reforms to family friendly policies are still needed. The Women and Equalities Committee, which I Chair, held a major inquiry into the support that fathers receive at work to help them better fulfil their caring responsibilities and we published our report just before Easter. We found that fathers increasingly want to play a more active role in looking after their children. The government is clear that fathers should take on a greater share of childcare duties and it has a number of well-intentioned policies to support this aim. However, as our inquiry heard, these policies simply do not deliver on what they promise, and particularly so for less well-off fathers. Many men are put off due to perceived negative stereotypes about a man’s role at home, the impact on their career or simply because they do not feel that workplace policies are supportive enough. One of the most necessary reforms we propose is around the Shared Parental Leave scheme. Introduced on 6th April 2015, it has the intention of allowing parents to share care in their child’s first year. This is very welcome by fathers who are able to take it, but for others it is not practical and is an offer on paper only. It has had a low take up, there are concerns about the design of the policy and even the government has told us it will not meet its objectives. Shared Parental Leave is also not as fair as it sounds. It is taken once the mother has ended her maternity leave, reinforcing cultural assumptions that the mother is the primary carer and can “give” leave to the father rather than him being entitled in his own right. We have proposed an overhaul of this policy and the government’s planned review of it later this year is the ideal opportunity to carry this out. Our report recommends that the government should consider the costs and benefits of an alternative policy of 12 weeks’ standalone leave for fathers to which they would be entitled in their own right. We want ministers to set out in detail how supporting fathers to do more childcare will support mothers in the workplace, benefit children and bring long-term benefits to the economy. Having 12 weeks’ dedicated leave for fathers could also help eliminate the gender pay gap—an issue we examined in the last parliament, and which is currently on the news agenda with the new reporting deadline having just passed. If our recommendation on dedicated leave for fathers is adopted in full, the disparity between men and women’s earnings will fall as women will be able to participate more fully in the workplace. One father told us that he would have taken time off “in a heartbeat” if it had not taken away from his wife’s leave. We believe our proposals would help the many men who say the same. We await the government’s response to our report with anticipation. While we hope full consideration is given to the proposal on dedicated leave for fathers, we want some of our other key proposed reforms accepted too. We want to see statutory paternity pay at 90 per cent of the father’s pay (capped for high earners) to ensure that all fathers can be around at the time of their child’s birth. The government should also legislate immediately to make a reality of the prime minister’s call for all jobs to be advertised as flexible from day one unless there are solid business reasons for them not to, and workplace rights for fathers should be harmonised regardless of the type of work or contract they find themselves in. Positive social changes are happening in British households that have the potential to benefit families and the economy. Parents should not have to wait any longer for government policy to catch up.