Since April 3 this year, men in the UK can take a greater share in child-rearing. New fathers can now take up to 26 weeks’ leave to care for a child – on top of two weeks’ regular paternity leave. The additional leave is potentially a step towards allowing women to return to work more easily, leaving a new baby in the care of her partner.
However, it is not clear how many men will take up this opportunity. A survey of 1,000 men by uSwitch, the utilities comparison website, showed that 41 per cent would not opt to stay at home, citing fear of losing their jobs or career prospects.
While the very smallest micro-businesses are exempt, organisations that represent the interests of smaller companies, such as the Federation of Small Businesses, have not welcomed the change. More than half the respondents to a survey of 1,300 businesses by the British Chambers of Commerce said the new rules would be damaging.
Women are entitled to six weeks’ maternity leave on 90 per cent pay, followed by 33 weeks on statutory maternity pay of £125 per week, and a further provision to remain off work for up to a year on no pay.
Additional paternity leave takes some of the gender bias out of parental leave, so that couples can plan which parent can more easily take a career break at the time of the birth of a baby.
The new legislation is a welcome step to freeing both men and women from gender-anchored roles in the workplace and at home, but it may take more than legal rights to change cultural norms.