Paternity leave: Mums and dads should be equal

By Lucas Zierold

One of the world’s richest CEOs has decided to take paternity leave: Mark Zuckerburg. His decision to take two months off work to look after his new daughter has pushed the chronic issue of paternity leave to the forefront.

Without doubt, Americans are much worse off with regards to family leave than most other economically developed countries; by law, mothers are granted only 12 weeks of unpaid leave and fathers are given nothing. Twenty-five states have extended the federal legislation to make mothers more likely to be eligible and receive some amount of pay, yet fathers are entirely reliant on their employer’s private paternity leave policy.

The situation for fathers isn’t much better in the UK, though women get much more support. The first two weeks of maternity leave are mandatory and mothers may take up to fifty-two weeks off work; for the first six weeks, they can expect nine per cent of their salary and then maximum £139.58 per week for the next 33 weeks before going on unpaid leave. By comparison, fathers are only guaranteed two weeks paid paternity leave with a maximum of £139.58 per week, which must end before 56 days after the baby’s birth. They are then granted up to 26 weeks of additional unpaid paternity leave and are only allowed to go on leave after the mother has returned to work.

According to a TUC report, 0.6 per cent of fathers take additional paternity leave and ten per cent of fathers take no leave at all. In November 2012, a government report was issued with the statement that “It is necessary to have new legislation in place that removes the current gender bias” and that “leave which is parental in nature (as opposed to maternity) must be available on a non-discriminatory basis for both women and men”. The report made several comments about the parental leave system, drawing connections between the discrimination against fathers and the resultant lack of fathers taking time off work to look after their child.

Fortunately, changes have been made to the paternity leave system as recently as April this year. Instead of paternity leave, parents can now be eligible for Shared Parental Leave (SPL). This allows mothers and fathers to take their leave in blocks rather than all at once, as was the system of yore. SPL can only begin once the mother has ended her maternity leave; upon doing so, the parents will receive maximum £139.58 per week, which ends after 39 weeks of the start of the maternity leave. SPL may go on for another 13 weeks, however this is unpaid. Due to the fact that these changes are very new, it is impossible to tell how much of an effect they’ll have; a review of the changes is due to be published in 2017.

Despite the fact that this does seem to be a step in the right direction, with more and more companies such as Netflix and Microsoft granting their male employees longer paid paternity leave, it seems to be a drop in the ocean compared to the current legislation in Sweden. There, fathers are given two months minimum fully paid paternity leave, with just under eighteen months total leave granted to both the mother and the father. Because of this, a father taking extended paternity leave is no longer an oddity, but rather part of the norm.

Even if you argue that women should have more parental leave than the father due to the mother being burdened by pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding, if you also believe in equal rights for all, you must agree that to at least give men the opportunity to take paternity leave is a strive forward for equality between men and women.