The UK’s paternity leave rights are unacceptable. What needs to change? 

The UK’s paternity leave rights are unacceptable. What needs to change? 

By: Aimee Mill
Published on:
  • Rights

Content note: Mentions of suicide and postnatal depression.

In this post, guest blogger Aimee Mill discusses what the current paternity leave rights are in the UK and how it affects new mothers, what other countries are doing differently, and what needs to change! Aimee is a high school student currently in S6.

Here in the UK, our paternity leave rights are something you’d expect to see if you were transported back to the 1950s; where mothers often have to cope by themselves after the birth of a child. Whilst society has moved forward, our paternity laws have not. Many fathers and non-birthing parents, now more than ever, want to take as much time off work as possible to care for their partner and bond with their new baby. However, for many, their financial situation and our current laws do not allow this, whilst others are not even eligible for paternity leave. 

Currently, the UK has the least generous paternity leave protection in Europe; with one or two non-compulsory, paid weeks which can only be taken after the child has been born. It’s estimated that a quarter of men in the UK are not eligible for paternity leave pay at all, this includes those who are self-employed or have been with their current employer for less than six months. Leaving hundreds of thousands of men, with no time to bond with their new baby, and their partners to struggle on their own.  

The UK’s dreadful paternity leave rights do not just have a negative impact on the father but also have a huge effect on the new mother. New mothers often have to face health complications, stress and a huge number of new responsibilities that come along with a new child, all whilst their partner has returned to work. Suicide is currently the leading cause of death in perinatal women in the UK. While 8 out of 10 women experience the so-called “baby blues” and 1 out of 10 women experience post-natal depression, the true figures of women suffering from post-natal depression are likely to be much higher. 

The UK must improve current paternity leave rights in order to protect countless new parents. An example of another country where this has been effective is Sweden, which currently has some of the most generous paternity leave rights in Europe and both new fathers, mothers and employers are reaping the rewards. Both parents in Sweden are entitled to the same time off work, with no gender discrimination; parents are entitled to 480 days of paid paternal leave – should there be two parents – each parent is entitled to 240 of those days, while a single parent is entitled to the full 480 days. The support of these generous rights has contributed to the greatly reduced number of women experiencing long-term post-natal depression; 5.4% of women in Sweden experienced late postnatal depression (6 months after birth), compared to the UK where 10% of women experienced postnatal depression (a year after birth).  

Increasing paternity leave rights not only benefits the new parents but is also beneficial to the employer. For example, McKinsey & Company interviewed new fathers and their partners working all around the world and their findings were hugely positive for the argument for extending paternity leave. The fathers that were interviewed said they felt more motivated after taking parental leave and that the leave positively impacted their relationship with their employer. This also led them to consider staying at their organisation in the long term. So, with all these benefits, the question is: why hasn’t the UK already updated their paternity leave rights?  

If you’d like to read more about this topic, check out this report by Pregnant Then Screwed and their Instagram account.

You can also sign this petition, which is calling on the UK Government to increase paternity leave to 6 weeks at 90% of salary.

Aimee Mill, guest blogger and S6 high school student.

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