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A new report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has found that working fathers feel similarly anxious about balancing their work and family life to working mothers, but are afraid of asking for more flexible hours:

The report paints a picture of a modern, working father who feels miserable about the proportion of time he is able to devote to his children, but who is too nervous to demand flexible working from his employers. About two in five men fear that asking for flexible working arrangements would result in their commitment to their job being questioned, and would negatively affect their chances of promotion. Although men are entitled to two weeks’ statutory paternity leave (at £123.06 a week), 45% of men did not take it, with most saying they would have liked to. The most common reason was because the fathers felt they could not afford to.

It’s clear that paternity leave needs to be extended in order that men have an equal opportunity to women to spend time with their children and that women do not have to bare the brunt of workplace discrimination against parents. The new plans to allow men to take 6 months’ paternity leave after the mother has taken 6 months (which came at the expense of extended maternity leave) may help, but a more flexible system where the leave can be split according to parents’ needs would be better. And men will need to step up and take what they are entitled to.

In a particularly blinkered and unhelpful article in The Times today, Eleanor Mills argues that working mothers in Britain are getting ‘greedy’ about maternity pay and are making life harder for others by giving employers no choice but to discriminate against women of child-bearing age, but she completely fails to take fathers’ roles into account. If any person, regardless of gender, could potentially take paid time off work to look after a new child, this practice would stop, as employers wouldn’t know who to discriminate against. It’s the focus on mothers as the primary care giver that is the problem, plus the lack of state-sponsored and affordable childcare and work-based creches. Implementing serious change in all these areas would benefit everyone: mothers, fathers, children and even employers, who could keep their existing staff if childcare were provided. I just wish the business bodies would get it into their heads that there’d be no workers in the future if employees didn’t have children.