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Can you share work and kids in the UK?

So you want to share the earning and looking after the kids with your partner? So do thousands of others – but few manage it, because the dice are stacked against you. Dad Info takes a look at the difficulties you might encounter.

The pay gap, UK employer's attitudes to working dads, shoddy part-time jobs, the paternity/maternity leave policies in the UK and the attitude of employment services towards fathers mean it's all too tricky to both get decent jobs and spend part of your week cleaning up sick and tickling tummies.

Equality ambitions thwarted?

70 per cent of mums and dads want dads to spend more time with their baby according to a poll in 2006. Every year there is another survey showing the frustration of mothers whose partners are stuck in long hours of work and unable to do more around the house.

Not surprising really – women are increasingly successful in the world of work, and lots of men think that life with their nose permanently attached to the grindstone kinda' misses the point. While it's still some couple's choice, most people who are becoming parents for the first time don't think much of the old housewife/mother - worker/provider deal these days.

But why is it that while most of us want to mix it up, so few manage to make it happen? For most of us, there’s the long slow slide into the old roles: man as primary earner and part time parent (if at all), and woman as primary parent and part time worker (if at all).

How dads affect kids

Home economics

When a baby's on it's way, us practical Brits tend to decide who should take time off and the chats about who should do what tends to revolve around a number of factors.

Some of these are very personal feelings, with all of us adding our own personal importance to our careers and the role we'd like to play in our children's lives.

Pure economics plays a big role – a baby means expenses go up and income goes down, so family finances are strapped.

Counting the cost

And the decision affect the rest of our lives - who does what in the family, reaping the joys and frustrations of our own particular role.

Breaking it down, we propose there are a number of key factors that shape every decision we make.

Culprit number one: The pay gap

Having a baby means inevitable sacrifices, and the currencies are time and money.

When you're working out whose income to lose in the long term, you're going to look at each other's paycheques - who was earning more before the baby was born, and whose work has the most potential?

We've got an appalling pay gap in the UK - dads earn more than mums in 80 per cent of British families. This is the biggest difference between men and women's pay in Europe.

The money section

Culprit number two: UK employers

If you're going to take time out or change your working times, you're going to want to know how it will affect your career. What is the long-term cost of taking time off work? Will your employer be OK with it or will you suffer a career penalty affecting the family’s income for years in the future?

Men are less likely to ask for flexible work and they're more likely to be turned down - and there's no campaign to make it OK for men to take time off for a baby, like in many other European countries

The work section

Culprit number three: Shoddy part-time work

If you want to share care and work part-time, are there decent part-time career opportunities or are they low income and low status? The UK has the worst part-time working opportunities in Europe. There are plenty of part-time jobs about - it's just that they're mostly low-paid, insecure and often really dull.

Culprit number four: The UK leave system

In the UK, we have this paid leave for new parents:

Men: two weeks' (low) paid paternity leave

Women: 39 weeks' (low) paid maternity leave

This difference between paid leave entitlements for women and men makes it the most unequal system in the world.  In other countries (particularly European ones), the situation is very different. For example, in Iceland, mum gets three (well paid) months off, dad gets three (well paid) months off and the couple gets another 3 (well paid) months to divide between themselves. 

Some time in the future it should become possible for Mum to give some of her maternity leave to Dad, but this is years away still and even the Government don't think many people will use it.

Paternity leave

Culprit number five: Employment services

If you're looking for work, and you've got kids, you'd think that the employment services would take account of that, wouldn't you? Well, if you're a mum, they do - you'll get special help. But not if you're a dad. They won't even ask you if you've got kids.

The Work and Pensions Committee said recently:

"Increasingly, the decisions that fathers make about the kinds of jobs they take and whether or not they move into work are related to childcare responsibilities. Those are negotiated as part of the family, yet we still have an employment support system that does not ask a man who comes into a Jobcentre whether or not he is a father."

The slippery slope

So we all face real financial pressures to conclude that it's not a job that can be shared, and that Dad should go back to work, and Mum stay at home with baby.

Couples who go along these lines for their first baby will soon find themselves drifting into predictable, traditional roles for men and women….

Mum

  • spends endless days on her own with baby, becoming better and better at parenting and taking on all the housework.
  • takes up to a full year out of work, leaving her losing ground in the earning stakes

Dad

  • surges on with his career to secure the family income (which now relies almost exclusively on him) and works long hours to make ends meet
  • has much less time with the baby, leaving him inexperienced and the baby looking to mum for all their needs, comforting etc.

The killer blow

If you have another baby, unless you're both earning loads, childcare begins to cost as much as a whole part time wage in some areas. If this happens, it makes sense for many part time earners to give up work and do all the childcare, while the other has to bring in all the money - no prizes for guessing who does what in most cases.

Those who don't give up work get stuck in the part-time jobs because by now they are doing everything at home and it's difficult to get a job at a better rate of pay.

What to do?

Check out these articles

Your workplace rights: Flexible working

Getting Flexible working: maximise your chances of success

Dad Partners

Family Matters Institute Dept. for Education Step Change Children's Legal Centre
DWP National Family Mediation CMEC Memset
OneplusOne CMO