Shared Parental Leave Is the Key to Closing the UK's Gender Pay Gap
Mon, November 29, 2021

Shared Parental Leave Is the Key to Closing the UK's Gender Pay Gap

Finland— the pioneer of gender equality— addressed homelessness, trialed universal basic income, produced an all-female political coalition, and even introduced one of the most equitable parental leave policies in Europe, reported Alexandra Topping of British newspaper The Guardian.

Under Finland’s new parental leave, all mothers and fathers will get nearly seven months’ paid leave and half of it will be non-transferable, while references to maternity and paternity leave are scrapped. The new policy highlights that all parents from all types of equal under Finland’s shared parental leave.

But it’s a different story with the UK. The country first introduced shared parental leave five years ago. An estimated three in seven families (9,200 out of 900,000) are eligible for the leave, excluding agency workers and those on zero-hours contracts, according to the TUC (Trade Union Congress), a federation of trade unions in England and Wales, cited Topping and Ben Chapman of Independent, a British online news publisher.

Of those families, only about 1% have shared any leave at all in the past year. Fatherhood Institute’s Adrienne Burgess noted that UK’s shared parental leave is an “inequitable and failed policy.”

Parental Leave In Four OECD Countries

Maria C. Huerta and colleagues’ research titled “Fathers’ Leave and Fathers’ Involvement: Evidence from Four OECD Countries” looked to birth cohort data of children born around 2000 from four OECD countries, namely Australia, Denmark, the UK, and the US and conducted a cross-national analysis on the association between fathers’ leave taking and fathers’ involvement when the children are young.

Huerta and her team found that fathers do take some time off work for parental purposes as soon as their children are born, despite having no legal provision. In the four countries analyzed by the authors, more than 80% of resident working fathers took some time off work around childbirth. The differences in the proportion of leave-takers in the countries surveyed were small, with the largest proportion seen in Denmark (88%) and the US (88). Meanwhile, the smallest proportions were observed in Australia (76%).

Of the Danish fathers who took time off from work, 90% took two weeks or more and less than 1% took less than one week off. Almost 60% of Australian fathers took two weeks or more, 28% took one week, and 12% took less than one week. On the other hand, US fathers did not take much time off work around childbirth, with only 33% taking more than two weeks off and 24% took less than one week.

Huerta and colleagues concluded that there is a positive and significant association between fathers’ leave-taking and fathers’ involvement with their children. Fathers who took time off from work longer were likely to engage more regularly in childcare activities than their peers who did not take off at the time of birth. For example, Danish fathers were involved in taking care of children less than one-year-old from playing (77%) to getting up at night (18.7%). The UK had the smallest proportion of fathers involved in childrearing activities from giving a bath (36.1%) and getting up at night (15.3%).

The Failure of Shared Parental Leave In the UK

Its demise is attributed to the failure of the government, business, and the majority of “handwringing progressives.”  The country has to overhaul parenting policy and parenting culture in the UK if the government wants to create a future-proof economy, better outcomes for children, and bridging the gender pay gap. The UK government’s silence on shared parental leave is deafening as it batted away calls for non-transferable leave for fathers, as well as from the TUC, the UK Women’s Budget Group, the Fatherhood Institute, and more.

One activist noted, “Campaigns around fatherhood have all but died in the UK.” Anyone mentioning fighting for men’s rights, even if those men hope to ease the burden off their female partners, automatically experiences difficulty. 

According to Modern Fatherhood, a website to fathers at home and in the workforce, 24% of fathers are not qualified for paid parental leave, as they are either self-employed (16%) or have not worked for their employer long enough (8%). But presently, fathers get two weeks’ paternity leave at £148.68 , compared with statutory maternity pa at 39 weeks for women, which includes six weeks of “enhanced pay.”

Lobby group Families Need Fathers said it’s a 96% “gender support gap.” Apart from the statutory two-week leave, the UK’s policy on parental leave is “earmarked” for fathers.

The Significant Role of Fathers In the Family

Aside from the critical role that fathers play during the early years of their child, they can aid in closing the gender pay gap. The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), a non-departmental public policy, found in its 2015 study that 54,000 new mothers lose their jobs across Britain each year.

The gender gap is small among young women, but it widens as they hit their child-rearing years, standing at 18.4% for all full and part-time employees. Unfortunately, they (10%) were also discouraged from attending antenatal appointments by their employers, jeopardizing the mother and baby’s health.

The gender pay gap will never be addressed until men are willing to take time off to look after their children. Both parents could share the burden of their child’s early years, albeit in theory. However, the reality is that the woman is more likely who decides to reduce her work hours, works flexibly, or moves to a less intensive role.

This is supported by data from the Fairness in Families Index 2016, a report published by think tank The Fatherhood Institute, stating that men in the UK represented only 25.8% of the part-time workforce and spent 24 minutes caring for children for every hour done by women.

Opening Up the Possibility for Shared Parenting

This could happen if the government decides to introduce a non-transferable period of paid leave for co-carers. Shared parenting could send a signal that fathers are valued much more than the income they bring home.

But companies and individuals could spearhead change. For instance, managers could ask every parent returning to work after bearing a child what support they need regardless of their sex. It is sex discrimination when employers tell working fathers that they are too important to take parental leave or question their ethic if they request for flexible or part-time work options.

Parents should also do their part to usher change. For example, fathers can decide to take parental leave if their partner is pregnant or talk about working flexibly or part-time during their child’s early years. There are more ways to help their partner raise their child, but sharing parental duties equitably is possible.  It will be difficult since it involves negotiation and sacrifice. But if people don’t want to continue bemoaning about the lack of equality, they should be part of the solution.

 

Fathers who take parental leave are more involved in raising their child. The UK should implement a shared parental leave policy to enable fathers to help their partners at home. Parental duties don’t fall solely on the woman’s shoulders. Nowadays, it is expected that both fathers and mothers equitably share parental duties without having to suffer from prejudice.