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How The UK’s Paid Family Leave Policy Is Failing British Fathers

flickr / Bethany Petrik

Since April 2015, parents in the United Kingdom have had the option to split up up the 50 weeks of parental leave they receive for adopted or biological children — up to 37 of which are paid. This is in addition to the 2 weeks of paid paternity leave British fathers already get, which sounds downright generous compared to America’s nonexistent leave policy.  So why did only one in 100 dads take time off during the first year? Simple, turns out that leave wasn’t entirely theirs to use.

In a hearing with the Parliament’s Women and Equities Committee this week, experts argued that the problem with the current policy is that it technically gives those weeks to working mothers. Who then, in turn, have the option to share with their husband if they want. As a result, the Trades Union Congress estimates that only 2 in 5 fathers qualify to take leave, mainly because their partners are already on it. “That communicates a really unfortunate message – which is a foundation of gender inequality in our society – that caring is a women’s role,” said Duncan Fisher, co-founder of the foundation The Family Initiative.

And even when mothers qualify for shared leave, men still have to ask their employers to use it. “Although my request for flexible working was granted, I often feel as if management is trying to catch me out,” testified one marketing manager for an engineering company. He added: “Flippant remarks about my being a part-timer are commonplace.”  For dads who qualify and want to take the leave they’re entitled to, they still have to deal with the stigma of coworkers asking, “did your wife give you that?” It’s the same kind of workplace discrimination that women have dealt with for decades, it just looks different.

The British government currently estimates that only 2 to 8 percent of 285,000 eligible working dads will take advantage of the current system. But if going Dutch on paid leave doesn’t work, going Swedish or Norwegian might. Giving UK gives dads their own paid leave policy may make men more comfortable taking it. After all, couples don’t have to share everything.

[H/T] The Guardian