Is promise to double length and rate of paternity leave effective?


Cloisters’ barrister Rachel Crasnow considers Labour party’s announcement on 9 February that a future Labour government would double paternity leave to four weeks and also double the current rate of paternity pay.

The aim is to ensure the money available is as good as the national minimum wage.

The current eligibility is for two weeks’ paternity leave paid at £138.18 a week. Around 55% of fathers take this up.

The Labour Party estimates that the take up will increase to 70% due to the enhanced rate of pay. Many fathers currently use annual leave so that they still maintain the same income, rather than sacrifice salary at a time when their partner’s earnings drop due to maternity leave commencing.

Would this make a difference? Even in April 2013 the average weekly earnings before tax for full-time employees were £517 – for these people, taking paternity leave would still mean a pay cut of 50%.

Since the funding is to come from tax credits savings, the issue is not so much that enhancements to paid paternity leave will add to small firms’ financial burdens but, rather, the question is how effective the new rights will

If the take up of another 15% holds true, no doubt this would be a useful factor in encouraging childcare to be more equally balanced from the outset. But would it be an effective use of public funds?

Nick Clegg exhorts us to embrace the Shared Parental Leave regime from April 2015, making the largely accepted point that shared family responsibilities motivate women to remain in the workplace after the end of their maternity leave.

Perhaps these new measures are best seen as part of a continuum of rights, combined with the new Flexible Working Rights as well as Shared Parental Leave. However, the Government predicts that only 2-4% of eligible partners will take up these new SPL rights. Such a low take-up will weaken the objective of sharing early years care. And it will reduce the return to work rate of new mothers.

The next Government will have to answer the dilemma of how to combine work and childcare during the gap between parental leave ending and the start of early years childcare provision.

This gap augments the gender pay gap and prevents maternal employment rates from increasing, due to a simple question of family economics.

The status quo will probably only change with a package of mixed solutions – offering an enhanced rate of parental leave as well as an expansion of free and affordable childcare from a child’s second birthday. The question of how political parties woo the business vote, whilst putting in place measures to retain women in the workplace, is a knotty issue: but not one which can be ignored.

To find out more about family rights at work, here is a link to Family Rights at Work: A Guide to Employment Lawa useful guide co-authored by several Cloisters’ barristers.

Also click here to see our recent blogs on shared parental rights

Rachel Crasnow QC is a highly renowned employment specialist appearing in complex, high-value claims involving race, age, sex and sexual orientation, disability and religion as well as TUPE, equal pay and whistleblowing cases.