Fathers in Scotland often feel too worried or embarrassed to use the paternity rights available to them when their partner has a baby, new research has found.
It is estimated that 78 per cent of Scottish fathers take some leave after the birth of a child, but only 18 per cent take more than a couple of weeks, academics from the University of Edinburgh reported.
The research also discovered that fathers on low incomes are even less likely to take meaningful time off due to fears over a subsequent reduction in earnings negatively impacting on their family’s finances.
Professor Alison Koslowski, who led the research, estimated that only 43 per cent of those in the bottom income quintile take any leave after their child is born.
“The first thing to note is that not all working fathers will be eligible to paternity leave in the first place,” she told The Scotsman.
“These non-eligible fathers are more likely to be those in precarious employment. They will not have any legal right to take paternity leave. Neither are self-employed fathers supported by the government with paternity leave.
“If you are eligible, an employer following statutory legislation will pay not more than £145.18 per week, which is much less than most fathers’ weekly take home pay.
“This means that fathers are quite likely to use up paid annual leave rather than use the paternity leave, which means that they do not take as much time with their babies as they are legally entitled to.”
An SNP MSP launched a campaign in April calling for the UK Government to increase the statutory entitlement of two weeks off for new fathers to four.
Fulton MacGregor also urged employers to voluntarily offer enhanced leave if they do not already. All Scottish Government staff are entitled to four weeks’ paternity leave.
The flagship Shared Parental Leave legislation, championed by then deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, was enacted in 2015 but has so far seen little uptake. Under the scheme, parents can carve up between them up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of statutory pay in addition to two compulsory weeks’ leave for mothers.
Paid paternity leave was only introduced in the UK in 2003. That figure stood at 46 per cent in 2017, according to the Office for National Statistics.
For one new dad, the two weeks’s statutory paternity currently on offer is not enough.
“I felt the two weeks wasn’t going to be enough so I added a week’s holiday onto my maternity leave. A new arrival turns you and your partner’s world upside down and takes a lot of readjusting,” said Stephen, a web developer.
“My employer has been very supportive however you do have a nagging doubt in the back of your mind that if you have been away from work and things have gone fine then do they really need you?
have heard stories of people who are at an important stage of their career, such as being on the verge of a promotion, and have been reluctant to take the full two weeks off.
“I have heard of people taking one week off when the baby is born and then another a few months down the line.
“I think perceptions have moved on enormously since my parents’ generation when fathers were not entitled to any paternity leave at all.”
Prof Koslowski believes further legislation is required. “Without legislation, some fathers - particularly those in precarious work - are always going to be left behind,” she added. “Not everyone will be lucky enough to work for a family friendly employer. I do not think we have got the legislation right yet for fathers and their families.”