NPO publishes blog articles to inform and to stimulate conversation about issues of importance to NPO's mission.  All blog articles express the opinions of the authors as individuals and do not necessarily reflect the views of National Parents Organization, its Board of Directors, or its executives.  

April 24, 2019 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Just 1% of British parents who were eligible to take parental leave in 2018 did so (Huffington Post, 4/5/19).  That’s according to data from the Trades Union Congress (TUC).
A new study indicated that only 9,200 new parents took up the shared leave in 2018 – just 1% of those eligible to it.
If this were an election, parental leave lost – big.  People “voted with their feet” and either remained at work or weren’t there to begin with and therefore didn’t need leave to care for their newborn.

So, are British parents simply unconcerned with their kids, or is something else at work?
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) said the take-up was poor because the scheme’s low payment of £145 a week made it unaffordable for most fathers…
Fathers in insecure jobs such as agency work or those on zero-hours contracts are not eligible, as well as self-employed men and women, said the TUC.
It’s interesting how the article linked-to moves from “parental” leave to “fathers.”  It makes it hard to figure out how many fathers took leave and how many mothers did.  But whatever the case, 9,200 in a whole year isn’t many.  And the TUC knows why.  The simple fact is that parental leave is parental leave in name only if parents, particularly dads, can’t afford to take it.

Here in the U.S., data demonstrate that, when men become fathers, they tend to start spending more time at work earning to cover the family’s needs.  My guess is that British dads do much the same.  So when Parliament tells fathers that, in order to bond with their child, they need to take a huge cut in pay, many of them simply can’t.  With another mouth to feed and Mom likely wanting to (and for a while needing to) take time off work, taking a pay cut isn’t in the cards for the great majority of men.

Our friend Dr. Anna Machin made the same point quite forcefully in her book The Life of Dad.  She called current family leave laws “unworkable” due to “a lack of financial backing.”

She goes on:
One of the starkest representations of the gulf that still exists between maternity and paternity rights is the fact that only ninety-two of the world’s 196 countries have statutory paternity leave and in half of these this is limited to three weeks or less.  This is in contrast to the global right to maternity leave.  It is hard not to view these statistics as evidence of society’s continuing belief that dads just aren’t that relevant in the childcare story.
Here in the U.S. this may all sound a bit arcane, given that we have no federally-guaranteed right to parental leave.  Still, Machin makes a salient point; we assume that fathers aren’t interested in their kids and then “prove” the point by providing them a form of leave that’s financially impossible for them to utilize.  We can then say “See?  We were right all along.  Fathers just aren’t that interested in their kids.”

Machin also cites the experience the Province of Quebec had when, in 2006, it initiated non-transferrable (i.e. for individual parents only) and well-funded paternity leave.  The result was a 250% increase in fathers’ usage of leave.

Machin adds:
It is only with adequately funded, non-transferrable paternity leave that fathers will be empowered to becoming more involved in the home, caring for their children and contributing to domestic life.
I would add that mothers becoming willing to give up their hegemony over childcare is at least as important as paternity leave to creating an even balance between mothers and fathers in domestic and work life.  Again, there’s no parental leave in this country, save that provided voluntarily by individual employers, but the ratio of stay-at-home mothers to stay-at-home fathers is still about 30:1.  Psychologists study maternal gatekeeping because mothers sometimes stand between Dad and his child.

And most importantly, our laws and courts routinely sideline fathers when Mom and Dad separate or divorce.  It’s far too much to ask men to dive into parenting wholeheartedly knowing that their marriage can end at any time and their time with their children will be reduced to occasional visits.

In short, there’s more to increased paternal investment in children than laws on paternity leave.  But those laws are part of the picture that we’re attempting to paint with oh so much pushback from those who oppose even modest improvements to kids’ relationships with their dads.

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