Paternity leave — use it or lose it

Men should be offered “use it or lose it” father’s leave, paid at a generous rate, to ensure they take off a substantial amount of time with their newborn, the UK’s equality watchdog will say this week.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) will call for fathers to receive a ring-fenced period of paternity leave that cannot be switched to their partner, which it hopes will help tackle the gender pay gap.

At present a man gets two weeks’ paternity leave paid at the statutory rate of about £141 a week, but many cannot afford to take it. In Scandinavian countries fathers are encouraged to take off up to a year.

New rules in 2015 allowed UK parents to share up to 50 weeks, known as “shared parental leave”. The father is paid £141 a week while the mother gets 90% of her salary for the first six weeks. Only 1% of men have used shared leave, according to studies, with money being the main issue.

Caroline Waters, deputy chairwoman of the EHRC, said: “Fathers want to play more of an active role in caring for their children but can’t afford to take parental leave and fear for their careers if they request greater flexibility.”

A number of women earn more than men in their twenties, but the pay gap begins in their thirties when many have children. The average pay gap across all ages is 18.1%, according to the Office for National Statistics.

In Norway both parents get the first two weeks off after the birth and can divide up the next 46 weeks paid at 100% or 56 weeks paid at 80%. There is also a 10-week quota reserved for men that expires if they do not use it.