Ben at work has just become a daddy. As the only people currently procreating, we have been sharing stories of buggy choices and birth plans – well, he’s told me what they are doing and I’ve listened (not having an real clue what I am going to do!). His wife was due the week after Easter while I was on holiday, so I was surprised on my return that there had been no announcement. Finally, last Thursday we heard they had sprogged – a delightful baby boy with a shock of black hair. And when will daddy be back at work? Next Thursday! So a whole week to bond with his baby until he’s back to the grindstone.
Why is he returning so soon? So he had statutory paternity leave of two weeks and took extra holiday to maximise the time at home with the baby, but the trouble was the baby had other ideas and rocked up two weeks late. He left going on leave till the last possible moment (the due date), but working down South when his wife was up North was just too much of a risk if she went into labour – and he really didn’t want to miss the main event!
This episode really strikes home the difference between paternity and maternity leave. Having said that, the UK has made some significant movements in the past ten years towards more equality in this area.
Since 2003, the right to up to two weeks paid paternity leave has been in place. This must be taken in one go and within 56 days of the birth. Under the law you must give your employer 28 days’ notice if you want to change the start date for this – which given babies can easily be two weeks late could mean you miss sharing any time with it. Luckily I think most employers are flexible on this point!
A lesser known right is Additional Paternity Leave, introduced in 2011. This provides you with an additional 2-26 weeks of leave if your partner goes back to work – essentially, if the mother doesn’t take all of her maternity leave then the father can take up to 26 weeks as APL. This can start from 20 weeks after the birth but must stop on the child’s first birthday (or in the case of adoption, within a year of when the child started living with the parents). Statutory pay is the same for both parents (currently £136.78 per week or 90% of your weekly earnings if lower).
Overall this is great in principle, in that I could take the first six months off and then go back to work, handing over to Fred for the final six months, giving us equal time with the offspring and an equal career break.
What I don’t know, and which would have a significant influence is how much occupational paternity pay is offered during this period – is it equivalent to what the mother is offered or is this just the statutory amount? The difference being that this 26 weeks isn’t going to be such a viable option unless there is enough to cover the mortgage – so unless employers have allowed for APL in the same way that they allow for OML and AML with respect to occupational pay, then APL may just be a pipedream for a lot of parents. I will have to investigate…
The main problem is though that whereas maternity leave is an expected and anticipated outcome of a woman becoming pregnant, APL is not an expected outcome for the father. Fred’s reaction on telling him about APL was that his boss would have a fit since it would never occur to him that Fred would be taking six months off to care for his baby.
Views like this need to change if we are to move towards better equality between men and women, and hopefully as the rights progress so will the desire to take them up. The times they are achanging, there is a consultation out currently on Shared Parental Leave and that goes some way to redressing the balance, how much I need to look into, so watch this space!
In the meantime, as a society we need to work to address prejudices in this area. The Guardian reports that 40% of men don’t take even the fortnight’s paternity leave because of the stigma they believe is attached.
Because if they can’t take two weeks, I’m not sure how we are going to move to 26 weeks or a shared model!