Early Parenthood: Supporting Fathers — [Geraint Davies in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 30th January 2019.

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Photo of Tracey Crouch Tracey Crouch Conservative, Chatham and Aylesford 9:30 am, 30th January 2019

I agree with my hon. Friend, but it is very important that we do not fall into the trap of talking about dads as weekend parents. The point of the debate is to discuss how society has evolved; there is a lot more equal parenting. I completely understand his point. I shall come on to talk about shared parenting. The take-up of shared parenting is so low that many fathers can play that meaningful role in parenting only at weekends, so we would want those services to be open. Children’s centres have an incredibly important role, which is not just about creating a connection, but also about, for example, trying to break the cycle in domestic abuse. They play a fundamental role. I know that the Stefanov Foundation is doing some excellent work in supporting such initiatives.

I accept that my own experience is based on good fortune, and that it could easily be criticised as coming from a comfortably-off middle-class professional, but we need to do so much more on shared parenting than we do at the moment. We lag very far behind other countries on shared parenting, particularly Scandinavian countries.

What I see from my other half taking shared parenting is a very special bond between him and our son. Sadly, there are still a significant number of men who are ineligible for parental leave, and for those that are eligible there is a financial disincentive to take it. The Fawcett Society found that nearly seven in 10 people believed that men who took time off work to look after a baby should be entitled to the same pay and amount of leave as women. In Germany, fathers on leave are paid two thirds of their salary and in Sweden it is 80% of their income. Here it is £145 per week. We managed because I am paid well, but an average or low-income family would inevitably struggle, so while many might want to, it is unsurprising that take-up of parental leave is so low.

I know that much work is being undertaken to improve the situation. I thought the speeches in our debate on proxy voting on Monday evening encouraging male colleagues to take shared parenting leave were really helpful, and we could set an example in this place. I commented earlier on the wider societal and health benefits of a father’s meaningful engagement in the upbringing of a child. To me, doing more to improve our shared parenting policies is a no-brainer.

There is so much more I could have spoken about this morning, including the emerging organisations that help support fathers, such as workingdads.co.uk, which seeks employment with flexible, child-friendly hours, and the really funny social media accounts, such as Man vs. Baby, which might make light of some of the challenges that fathers face but also highlights that they exist in the first place. Ultimately, if we accept that meaningful fatherly engagement with their children is good for the health and wellbeing not just of the child but also the dad, making sure that we provide the infrastructure to support them, from neonatal to perinatal and beyond, is simply common sense, fair and equal—good economics but also really good politics.