Taking time off to be a dad: how can new fathers be supported to have a greater role in family life?

Blog posts

3 Jul 2023

Rosie Gloster

Rosie Gloster, Principal Research Fellow (former)

Significant differences in the take-up of parental leave by fathers have been found in a survey of approximately 3,000 new parents carried out by BMG Research with the Institute for Employment Studies, and commissioned by the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). The research found that two in five new fathers did not access paid parental leave:

  • one in five new fathers (18 per cent) took no time off work when their child was born, and
  • one in five (21 per cent) took time off which was not statutory parental leave, such as annual leave.

The reasons fathers did not take paternity leave are many, but key is a lack of eligibility, lack of security in the employment relationship, and lack of affordability.

Twenty-seven per cent of fathers said they were not entitled to any statutory leave. Employed new fathers must have been in post for 26 weeks before being eligible for paternity leave, so people working in less stable employment, or those who change employer during the second or third trimester of a pregnancy, find themselves ineligible for paternity leave, even when they have been continuously in work.

Take up of paternity leave was 70 per cent among fathers who were employees before birth and was significantly lower among new fathers with worker status (38 per cent). Whether employees took paternity leave also related to their duration in their job; with fathers who had worked in a job for a longer period more likely to take leave, likely due to feeling secure in their employment relationship. A large driver of taking paternity leave was whether childcare vouchers (or similar help) were offered by the employer, suggestive of a supportive employer culture for parents, which has been found to be a influence of parental leave take up in other studies (eg CIPD, 2020).

While six in ten (58 per cent) of fathers received full pay throughout their paternity leave, others did not. A third of fathers who did not take statutory leave said it was because they could not afford to (35 per cent), and among the one in five fathers (22 per cent) who took some but not their full paternity leave entitlement, again the main reason was also lack of affordability (62 per cent). The proportion of fathers who could not afford to take any parental leave was highest among fathers where household income was £20,000- £39,999 (earning a figure above the National Minimum Wage (NMW)) which was £8.21 for people aged 25 or over at the time of the survey, or £303.27 for a 37-hour week. There is a significant gap between Statutory Paternity Pay which was £148.68 a week in the 2019/20 financial year and earnings from work for employees whose employers do enhance paternity pay.

There are many potential benefits to new fathers taking paternity leave, including greater involvement in family life and childcare, relationship stability, and reducing the gender pay gap. So, how might more new fathers be supported to take parental leave?

Firstly, the gap between earnings and Statutory Paternity Pay needs to be reduced. Either by policymakers increasing paternity pay or enhanced by employers for the 40 per cent of new fathers that do not receive full pay. This would improve the affordability and likelihood that new fathers in all occupations and employment circumstances can take paternity leave. 

Secondly, given the likely short period of time off work, statutory paternity leave should be a day-one right rather than requiring continuous employment with the same employer.

Thirdly, employers and society as a whole need to create and enable a culture that is encouraging and supportive of new fathers spending time with their families.

These calls are not new. Women have increasingly stepped into the sphere of work over the last 40 years, now is the time to support and enable men to step into the sphere of home and family.  

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Any views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Institute as a whole.