Cut the gender pay gap by increasing parental leave for fathers, MPs say

The MPs say helping mothers take less responsibility for childcare will close the pay gap

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Parental leave rights for fathers and second parents should be strengthened in order to tackle the gender pay gap, a cross-party group of 44 MPs has said.

In a letter to Equalities Secretary Justine Greening seen by The Independent the MPs said that the current balance of maternity leave rights enshrine women’s “disproportionate responsibility for the care of children” in law.

Women are on average paid less than men, with the gap between the two genders’ wages opening up around the age most women have children. A recent enquiry by the Commons Women and Equalities Committee found that pay differentials were partly a result of women continuing to “take the majority of responsibility for childcare” and thus putting their careers on hold. 

The MPs are calling for a statutory entitlement to three months of non-transferable paid parental leave for fathers or second parents, at the same rate as maternity pay. They also say payments for the first four weeks of paternity pay should match those of the first four weeks of maternity pay, which is currently paid at a higher rate.

It is argued that the proposed policy change “would be a significant step forwards both in practical terms and in shifting cultural attitudes” and that the Government’s current policy of shared parental leave does not work.

The letter says: “As well as enabling fathers to play a more active role in childcare from an early stage, an effective policy on [shared parental leave] is absolutely essential to closing both the employment gap and the gender pay gap for women in the workplace by giving working families more choice and flexibility and supporting mothers who want to return to work early.

“As long as women continue to take disproportionate responsibility for the care of children, the gender pay gap will persist.”

Labour MP David Lammy, who organised the letter and chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group on Fatherhood, said: “It is blindingly obvious that we won’t see progress on gender equality both in and out of the workplace and we won’t see progress on active fatherhood until we have effective policies on shared parental leave in place. 

“The evidence is clear – fathers want to be more engaged, they want to spend more time with their children and they want to share the burden of parenthood equally but they are worried that this will mean that they lose out at work and that their employer will penalise them.

“The inquiry currently being undertaken by the Women and Equalities Committee is an opportunity to drive real change in working cultures and attitudes and I am delighted that so many Members of Parliament from across a range of political parties have supported this call for a shared parental leave policy that reflects the realities of the modern world”. 

Sam Smethers, Chief Executive of the Fawcett Society, said: “The time has come for a radical re-think about how we support fathers in the workplace and how we enable parents to share care of their children.  

“The Government needs to catch up with the reality of family life. Fathers want to spend more time caring for their children but our outdated leave system holds them back.”

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Tottenham Labour MP organised the letter (AFP/Getty)

“Addressing unequal caring roles will help tackle one of the most significant causes of the gender pay gap.”

Sarah Jackson, Chief Executive of Working Families, said: “Half of fathers are ready to downshift their career to get the balance their families need. At the same time, women continue to pay the price of the motherhood penalty in the form of the gender pay gap. 

“We need urgent change for the next generation of fathers and mothers. Shared parental leave is helping some families to do things differently but a decent period of paid leave just for fathers would help us to go further and faster on the journey towards equality at work.”

 

Data from HMRC shows that only 3,000 couples took shared parental leave in the first three months of 2016, which equates to 2 per cent of families in which the mother took maternity leave during that same period.

The Government has legislated so that from April large employers will have to report their gender pay gap. It has previously rejected a suggestion that shared parental leave be overhauled to be more generous to fathers on the basis that it was “still a very new policy”.

A Government spokesperson said: “Shared Parental Leave gives working families more choice and flexibility, helping to close the gender pay gap and enable fathers to play a more active role in caring for their children. This Government is committed to working with business and other groups to promote its benefits and help change attitudes on shared parenting.

“This is still a very new policy, which the Government will continue to evaluate. The Committee’s recommendations will form a part of that evaluation.”

The MPs who signed the letter

David Lammy, Maria Miller, Dawn Butler, Ruth Cadbury, Stella Creasy, Vernon Coaker, Jim Cunningham, Jack Dromey, Flick Drummond, Frank Field, Caroline Flint, Mary Glindon, Roger Godsiff, Helen Grant, Neil Gray, Kate Green, Margaret Greenwood, Helen Hayes, Sharon Hodgson, Kelvin Hopkins, Dan Jarvis, Diana Johnson, Liz Kendall, Caroline Lucas, Rachael Maskell, Connor McGinn, Alison McGovern, Madeleine Moon, Sarah Olney, Chi Onwurah, Kate Osamor, Jess Phillips, Emma Reynolds, Rt Hon Joan Ryan, Nas Shah, Gavin Shuker, Tulip Siddiq, Ruth Smeeth, Cat Smith, Jeff Smith, Jo Stevens, Gareth Thomas, Catherine West, Chuka Umunna

 

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