The UK’s Paternity Policy is the Worst in Europe – Here’s What It Means for Fathers

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When Billy Beech’s daughter was born in 2019, he took the maximum two weeks of paternity leave from his job as a groundsman at a Premier League football club. Reflecting on the experience, the 33-year-old recalls how quickly those precious weeks passed. “For two weeks, she was asleep on my chest, we were cuddling and feeding, and then it was over before I knew it,” he laments. Returning to work, Beech found himself constantly worried about his daughter and exhausted from the lack of sleep. Adding to the strain, his wife was recovering from a C-section.

This scenario is familiar to many fathers who find themselves abruptly returning to their regular routines after the initial blur of adjusting to parenthood. As Beech puts it, “Your life has changed forever… and suddenly, you’re back to where you started.” For numerous fathers like him, the statutory paternity leave in the UK feels inadequate, especially considering it ranks as the least generous in Europe.

The issue of childcare provision is poised to be a major topic in the upcoming general election. The Labour Party has pledged to create 100,000 additional nursery places, while the Conservatives have promised 30 hours of free childcare for children aged nine months to five years starting in September 2025. The Liberal Democrats propose a significant overhaul of paternity leave, advocating for the introduction of a “dad month,” providing new fathers with an additional month of “use it or lose it” paid leave. Yet, would these reforms suffice to improve the current system for ordinary families, and what are the long-term repercussions of the existing policy on fathers and their children?

Paid paternity leave was only introduced in the UK in 2003. Currently, most new fathers and same-sex partners are entitled to up to two weeks of leave, which can be taken consecutively or split into two separate weeks within the baby’s first year. The option to split leave was only recently implemented for babies born or adopted after April 6, 2024. During their leave, fathers receive either £184.03 per week or 90% of their average weekly salary, whichever is lower, with deductions for tax and national insurance.

Psychotherapist Kamalyn Kaur has encountered men who feel devastated by the lack of time they can spend with their newborns. “In the short term, there’s guilt, stress, and anxiety about not being able to support their partners as much as they would like,” she explains. “Leaving your partner and newborn after just two weeks can be heartbreaking.”

While some employers offer more generous paternity leave packages, research by Pregnant Then Screwed found that fewer than a third of fathers had access to enhanced paternity pay. For self-employed individuals like Beech, there is no statutory paternity provision, adding financial uncertainty to an already challenging time. Beech, now running a childminding business with his wife, recognizes the financial constraints of having another child under such circumstances.

Many eligible workers do not take their full paternity leave due to financial constraints exacerbated by the cost of living. According to Pregnant Then Screwed, over 70% of fathers utilize only part of their entitlement. Another survey revealed that 62% of fathers would take more leave if statutory paternity pay were increased. Similarly, uptake of shared parental leave remains low due to its poor pay and complex eligibility criteria, with only 1% of eligible mothers and 5% of fathers opting in.

Generational biases in the workplace further complicate matters. Alison Green from Work, Me, and the Baby highlights the workplace expectations around childcare responsibilities, often placing the burden on women. This perpetuates traditional gender stereotypes and contributes to the motherhood penalty, affecting women’s career progression and salaries.

Beyond financial implications, the UK’s paternity leave policy potentially impacts fathers’ relationships with their children. “The early months are crucial for establishing a strong emotional bond,” says Kaur. Research indicates that fathers who take longer periods of leave are more engaged in their children’s early development. Conversely, limited time off may lead to emotional detachment and reduced paternal involvement as children grow.

Currently, the UK’s parental leave policies reinforce traditional gender roles and contribute to the gender pay gap. Paloma Faith’s experience in her book “Milf” underscores the strain on relationships caused by unequal childcare responsibilities.

Ultimately, the impact of paternity leave extends far beyond infancy and could influence electoral decisions. Regardless of political affiliation, addressing the inadequacies of current policies is crucial not only for fathers but for the well-being of entire families.

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