The Liberal Democrats have promised to increase paid paternity leave to one month. The policy was dubbed “Daddy month”.
Labour has also said it would double paid paternity leave to four weeks and would increase paternity pay.
Paid paternity leave of two weeks was first introduced in 2003. It allows fathers or same-sex partners to take two weeks of leave at a rate of £140.98 per week or 90% of the person’s average weekly earnings, whichever is lower.
This applies to the whole of the UK.
However, the government does not publish any figures on the take-up of paternity leave so it’s difficult to say how many fathers are using it.
In a written answer in Parliament in March this year, Work and Pensions Minister Damian Hinds quoted figures from a small sample of data provided to HM Revenue & Customs by employers, to estimate that in 2015-16 around 215,000 employees in the UK claimed paternity pay and around 6,000 shared parental leave.
The Trades Union Congress suggests, using official figures which are in themselves estimates, that in June 2016 there were 600,000 working fathers who’d had a child in the past year.
Of these, the trade union body thinks that around a fifth were not eligible for paternity pay because they had been working for their current employer for less than six months, or were self-employed.
So, based on this it looks like about a third of all new fathers get paternity pay. But the truth is, reliable figures are lacking.
Shared parental leave
These two weeks of paternity leave are not the only benefits available to fathers, though. Since April 2015, new parents have had the opportunity to take shared leave, giving fathers (or the other parent or partner) the opportunity to stay at home caring for the baby.
Under the new rules, mothers still must take the initial two weeks after birth, but the rest of the leave, up to 50 weeks, can be shared between the parents in any way, if they meet eligibility criteria.
A year after the policy of shared parental leave was implemented, it was widely reported that only 1% of UK men had taken up the opportunity.
But the source for that figure was based on a survey with a seriously flawed methodology.
Employment consultancy, My Family Care, asked employers what proportion of all their male employees, rather than recent fathers, had requested shared parental leave.
Including all male workers, rather than just those who had had a child in the last year, gave a very low proportion, which doesn’t tell us what proportion of eligible fathers made use of the policy.
Although we don’t have the figures, there are a number of reasons why fathers may not want to take advantage of shared parental leave. Because statutory paternity pay is relatively low and, at the moment, employers often offer over-and-above the statutory minimum for women, some couples would lose out financially in order for the father to stay home.