Saturday 18 January 2020

'Costs to blame' as just third of dads take paternity leave

Laura Erskine
Laura Erskine
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Low uptake of paternity leave uptake has been blamed on the "harsh reality" that new fathers cannot afford to take time off.

New figures show 20,375 men took up the option to take two weeks' paternity leave in the scheme's first 11 months in operation.

That is a rate of around 34pc when compared to the average of just more than 5,300 births a month last year.

The weekly State payment for paternity leave is €235.

Laura Erskine, a spokeswoman for parenting website, said: "Our mums are telling us that the main reason their partners are not availing of the new paternity leave is down to finances - they simply can't afford it."

She said the payment of €235 was not enough to justify taking the time off, particularly while their partners were on maternity leave. Ms Erskine said that while many employers topped up maternity benefits for full-time employees, that was not the case for fathers.

She said having a baby was an expensive time, but for the majority of fathers since the scheme was introduced "the harsh reality of providing for baby wins out over extra time bonding with baby".

The Department of Social Protection, which administers the scheme, last night said it hoped an ongoing national advertising campaign would "help raise awareness and encourage new fathers and fathers-to-be to take up their entitlement to paternity benefit".

A statement said there were a number of factors that determined take-up rates, including parental choice and whether the father had sufficient PRSI contributions. It said the self-employed considered whether they could afford to take time off, while an employee's decision may be affected by whether an employer chose to top up their wages.

The statement said that based on claims received to date, the annual expected uptake was approaching 30,000 fathers.

It is estimated that 26,000 men will claim under the scheme this year. There were 63,897 babies born in 2016.

The chairman of the Oireachtas Children Committee, Fine Gael TD Alan Farrell, urged fathers to take up the entitlement, saying it was "important in terms of bonding - particularly with their first child".

Mr Farrell said it might be an aspiration to raise the €235 sum in the future, but he stressed the importance of paternity leave being a universal payment, and added: "I wouldn't like to see it go down the road of being income-assessed".

The Government's separate Affordable Childcare Scheme kicks in this September.

A universal subsidy of up to €80 a month for children aged between six months and three years aims to help the parents of around 33,000 children with childcare costs.

There was confusion yesterday when Mr Farrell appeared to confirm that the upcoming Budget would include extra funds of €150m for the Department of Children in 2018.

Mr Farrell later clarified the sum related to the full-year cost of the affordable childcare measures that begin this September.

Irish Independent

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