The UK has the poorest paternity policy in Europe - GulfToday

The UK has the poorest paternity policy in Europe

Paternity Leave

Representational image.

Katie Rosseinsky, The Independent

Childcare is shaping up to be one of the biggest issues of the election, says. With most fathers forced to return to work just a fortnight after their child is born, what actually needs to be done to make parenting more equal?

When Billy Beech’s daughter was born in 2019, he was able to take the maximum two weeks of paternity leave from his job as a groundsman at a Premier League football club. It went by “in a flash”, the 33-year-old says. “For two weeks she was asleep on my chest, we were cuddling and feeding, and then that’s gone before you know it.” After that fortnight, he returned to work. “You’re still worried about the baby, you’re still tired, you’re still thinking ‘right, I need to get home,’” he recalls. The fact that his wife was still recovering from a C-section was an extra concern, too. Back in his job at the stadium, he ended up “watching (his daughter) grow up through my phone” — receiving “photos (and messages) saying, ‘she rolled here, she’s moving around, look how cute she is’. You miss those moments.”

It’s a situation that many dads will recognise all too well: the blur of the first couple of weeks adjusting to life as a new parent, followed by a jarringly quick return to your old routine. As Beech puts it: “Your life has changed forever … and now you’re right back where you left off.” For many fathers like him, statutory paternity leave provision feels insufficient — and no wonder, given that the UK’s offering is the least generous in Europe. This may be the reason that childcare provision is shaping up to be one of the biggest issues of the upcoming general election. The Labour Party has vowed to create 100,000 additional nursery places to support working parents, while the Tories previously promised to offer 30 hours of free childcare for kids aged nine months to five years old from September 2025. The Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, have set their sights on a major paternity leave overhaul. They’ve promised to introduce a “dad month”, giving new fathers an extra “use it or lose it” month of paid leave. But would that actually be enough to change things for ordinary families, let alone shake up a clearly inadequate system? And what is the long-term impact of the current policy on fathers and their children?

Paid paternity leave was only introduced to the UK in 2003. Currently, most new dads are like Beech, entitled to up to two weeks of leave, which they can take either consecutively or in two week-long chunks during the baby’s first year. That option to split up your paternity entitlement is a very new one — it only applies to babies born or adopted after 6 April 2024. The “secondary” caregiver receives either £184.03 each week or 90 per cent of their average weekly salary — whichever of those figures happens to be lower — and tax and national insurance are still deducted from that sum. To be eligible for this, they must have been continuously employed at their current place of work for at least 26 weeks before the end of the “qualifying week” (that’s the 15th week before the baby is due).

Psychotherapist Kamalyn Kaur says she has worked with men who have felt “devastated about not being able to spend time with their children” after the birth. “In the short term, there’s guilt, stress and anxiety — feeling as though they’re not supporting their partners as much as they could,” she explains. “Imagine the guilt that you would experience, leaving your partner after those first two weeks and knowing that you don’t really have a choice other than to go back to work.”

Some companies, of course, do offer a more generous package — although the charity Pregnant Then Screwed recently found that less than a third of fathers were able to access enhanced paternity leave pay following the birth of their most recent child. And if you’re self-employed? There is currently no statutory paternity provision for freelancers. Beech left his old job a few years after his daughter was born and decided to retrain with childminder agency tiney. He and his wife now run their own childminding business, so he now falls into this category, and notes that if they decide to have another child, the situation would be different. “There’s so many financial factors that you have to worry about.”

Many workers who are eligible aren’t taking their leave in full — often because they simply don’t have the means to do so. Having a baby is expensive. In the thick of a cost of living crisis, it’s hardly a surprise that many families just can’t let their monthly income drop so significantly. Pregnant Then Screwed found that more than 70 per cent of dads only used part of their paternity leave entitlement because they could not afford to stay off any longer. In another survey co-commissioned by the organisation and released in 2023, 62 per cent of fathers said they would take more leave if statutory paternity pay was increased.


Related articles