FNF in The Observer on Funded Paternity Leave

On 30th May, The Observer quoted Families Need Fathers on the benefits to children and parents of funded paternity leave.

Former Labour Leader, Ed Miliband, has backed properly funded paternity leave for fathers - recognising that we are increasingly a nation whose neglect of fatherhood is calling out for reform. FNF were asked by The Observer for our views and were pleased to be able to provide our wholehearted support.

The current system encourages ‘men at work, women at home’ culture. We fully support an extension of paid paternity leave. We believe both parents matter in children’s lives and research evidence supports this. Our policies are out of date and don’t support the best interests of children or families in general. The UK has the world’s biggest differential between support for mothers and fathers – statutory maternity leave at 52 weeks compared to the fortnight for paternity leave.

A take-it-or-lose-it approach to parental leave for each parent is the only model shown to work in promoting the beneficial involvement of both parents in children’s lives. The “use it or lose it” paternity scheme was rolled out in Sweden and Iceland during the 1990s and has been widely credited as a huge success. In 1995 when Iceland had no paid paternity leave, men took just 0.1% of leave. Five years later, when fathers became entitled to two weeks’ paid leave – as in Britain today – that rose to 3% of total leave. Now, with each parent in Iceland entitled to five months off work and paid at 80% of their salary, men take 30% of the total.

Previous attempts at reform have had minimal impact. In 2015 the coalition government introduced shared parental leave as a flagship policy but take-up rates remain low, with qualification requirements rendering up to half of households ineligible. The £150 a week flat-rate payment is, say experts, about half of the living wage.

Such an approach helps explain why the UK is currently 28 out of 31 of the world’s richest countries in a recent ranking of family-friendly policies by Unicef.

Gloria Steinem, the American feminist journalist and social political activist who became nationally recognised as a leader and a spokeswoman for the American feminist movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s said:

“As long as working women also have to do the work of child and family care at home, they will have two jobs instead of one. Perhaps more important, children will grow up thinking that only women can be loving and nurturing, and men cannot.”

We totally agree with this. During the coronavirus pandemic, reductions in fathers’ working hours and commuting times have translated into greater childcare times, demonstrating what dads tell us – it is more about time availability and family finance than lack of interest.

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