The Government was accused last month of failing new fathers after offering a ‘lukewarm’ response to a report on the subject published earlier this year by the Women and Equalities Committee.
The Committee’s report, Fathers and the workplace (the Report), was published in March 2018 and contained a number of wide-ranging recommendations aiming to better balance the needs of fathers, mothers, and employers. The Report found that current employment law and workplace policies were pushing new dads back to their jobs, leaving women to take on childcare duties and undermining attempts to tackle the gender pay gap. At the time of publication, it was estimated that less than 2% of eligible couples took up shared parental leave, the right introduced in 2015 allowing couples to divide 50 weeks of leave and up to 37 weeks of pay during the first year of their child’s life.
Key recommendations in the Report included an entitlement to paid time off to attend antenatal appointments for employed fathers, an increase to statutory paternity pay levels to 90% of pay, the replacement of shared parental leave with the introduction of 12 weeks’ leave for new fathers in the first year, and for jobs to be advertised as flexible from day one unless this is prevented by solid business reasons. The Report also suggested the government should act to harmonise workplace rights for those fathers who are self-employed or agency workers with those for employed fathers as far as practical. More controversially, the report mooted the introduction of paternity as a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.
The government’s response to the report, published on 14 June 2018, concluded there was a need for further debate and research rather than for imminent reform. Whilst the response did acknowledge there was ‘much more to be done’, it proposed the long term solution was to ‘promote and secure wider social change’. It also identified a number of the committee’s recommendations as requiring ‘radical changes in policy direction’ and others as dealing with issues where parallel work was already underway.
The Labour MP Jess Phillips who sits on the committee expressed her disappointment at what she perceived as the government’s ‘lukewarm response’. Committee chair Maria Miller described the government’s reaction as a ‘missed opportunity’. She also expressed surprise at the response’s failure to reference the government’s own recently published research on the gender pay gap, which identified that if women and men took similar amounts of unpaid family leave, the pay gap would decrease by 13%.
In related news, a Private Members’ Bill with cross-party support has been introduced to parliament which would require employers with more than 250 employees to publish information on their leave and pay policies relating to parents. The draft draws from the structure of the gender pay gap obligations, and would require companies to produce a statement of policy, accompanied by a written statement from a director or equivalent confirming its accuracy, and to publish the same on both their own website and on the existing government gender pay gap website. The draft includes enforcement powers for HMRC to impose non-compliance and penalty notices in the form of fines of up to £5,000.
Until such time as any of these proposals take effect, it remains the case that employers should seek to consult with future and current fathers about their parental responsibilities, and in particular inform them about the rights and opportunities available.