Britain is facing a "brain drain" of fathers from the country's top jobs because of long working hours and poor childcare provision, campaigners warned yesterday.
Despite the introduction of paid paternity leave and better rights for fathers, men are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with their work-life balance. A study by the pressure group Fathers Direct found that only one in five men is happy with the time spent at work, compared with 35 per cent 10 years ago.
Jack O'Sullivan, of Fathers Direct, said: "We are seeing a brain drain of fathers from these very high-powered jobs, and that is reducing the talent pool available in this country.
"Women who have children are getting trapped at home because of the high cost and low provision of child care, which means in turn that men are getting trapped at work, putting in ever-longer hours to make up for the lost income of their partners. It is good that Alan Milburn values his role as a father enough to give up his job, but it should not come down to that kind of choice."
Research has shown that men who are fathers work longer hours than those without children.
A study by the University of Hertfordshire found that one in three men with children spend more than 50 hours a week at work compared with less than one in four childless men and one in 20 women who do not have children. Four out of 10 fathers in Britain work more than the 48 hours set down in the European working-time directive, compared with two out of 10 in the Netherlands and Sweden. Researchers found that the average working father spends two hours a day with his children, even when weekends are taken into account.
The former health secretary Alan Milburn, who resigned on Thursday saying he wanted to spend more time with his children, is the latest high-profile casualty of the growing crisis.
In his resignation letter to Mr Blair, Mr Milburn said: "It has come down to a choice between my career in politics and my life with my family." He later told reporters: "You get one shot in life with kids. You get one chance to see them grow up. I have not been there and I want to be there."
Alexandra James, a policy specialist on work-life balance at the Work Foundation, said: "This is becoming a huge issue. It is becoming increasingly difficult for men to combine work with any semblance of a family life or leisure time.
"It is very sad that someone as talented and ambitious as Alan Milburn felt he had no option but to stand down in order to see his children. His resignation should shock people into realising that we have to re-think the way we work," she said.
Because the age at which men have children has increased from 27 in 1971 to 30 in 2002, fatherhood often coincides with the time at which their jobs become most demanding. Peter Baker, of the Men's Health Forum, said: "We now have a Prime Minister and an Archbishop of Canterbury who both have young children. We should be recognising that our culture is changing and adapting working hours to fit in with that.
"I would like to see a limit of 37 hours on the working week so people have time to spend with their families."
Mr Milburn is one of a number of high-profile men who have stepped down from their jobs in order to spend more time with their families. Last year Danny O'Neill resigned as chief executive of the Britannic insurance group after seven weeks, saying he wanted to spend more time with his young triplets.
Mr O'Neill said: "My family was constantly taking second place to work - which was fine as I was being very well paid to do the job, but I decided it was the right time to find a better balance."
A few months later Richard Girling, chief executive of the software group RM, quit his job, saying that he needed to "catch up on life".
Suma Chakrabarti, one of the country's most senior civil servants, struck a blow for father-friendly working. He took on the role of permanent secretary at the Department of International Development only when he was guaranteed a 40-hour week which allowed him time to have breakfast with his daughter of six and be home in time to read her a bedtime story.
¿ Sessions in the family division of the High Court were suspended yesterday while police removed 50 members of the group Fathers 4 Justice. The group occupied a court room to protest at what it said was the unequal treatment given to fathers in divorce or separation cases. They claimed that 40 per cent of those men lost contact with their child.