My first Father’s Day was a painful one, during which I received a card and a sudden bash to the head. My daughter, Ava, then 11 months old, immediately took notice of the card when her mum handed it to me. She began to scrunch the card, which featured characters from her favourite TV show, and chewed on it in that charmingly destructive way of small children.
Then, leaving the card as suddenly she’d found it, Ava picked up a heavy perfume bottle of her mothers from the windowsill and launched it into the air. The bottle smacked me between the eyes and sent me reeling off the couch. Ignoring the searing pain in my head, I comforted the culprit after she burst into tears.
It goes without saying that the difficult task of parenting has its up and downs. But when Ava was born in 2009 the recession added unforeseen challenges, not just for my own family, but for working families across the country.
This was particularly true for self-employed people like myself, who, on average, earn around £13,500 a year – much less than other workers.
As a new dad, who was self-employed, I found it very difficult to balance spending time with my family and my financial responsibilities. As result I missed out on moments in my daughter’s early life that I will never get back.
The pressure on Britain’s self-employed and low paid workers has grown since Ava was born, as has the number of people becoming self-employed.
In 2014 self-employment reached a record high of 4.5m, an increase of 732,000 since 2008; yet during that same period self-employed people saw a 22 per cent fall in real pay.
The situation today is just as dire, with 1.7m low paid workers not covered by the introduction of the so called “Living Wage” because they are self-employed. By 2020 that number is expected to rise to 1.88m.
Although many Tories credit the rise in self-employment to a positive desire of people wanting “to be their own boss”, the truth is that much of the UK’s self-employed workforce have no other choice and suffer reduced wages, job security and employment rights as a consequence.
Do not qualify
Adding to the difficulties for self-employed dads is the fact that they do not qualify for a paternity allowance, despite similar measures for self-employed mums being in place.
New TUC analysis for Father’s Day has shown that of the 600,000 working fathers in the UK to have a child in the past months around one in five weren’t entitled to two weeks’ statutory paternity pay.
More than 32,000 didn’t qualify as they hadn’t worked at their companies longer than six months, but for the remaining 99,000 it was because they were self-employed.
The TUC also said it feared that many new dads were not taking the £139.58 a week statutory paternity leave even when they were entitled to it, because they simply cannot afford the drop in their wages.
On Father’s Day the TUC called on the government to level the playing field for new dads by introducing a paternity allowance for those not eligible for statutory paternity pay.
The move would replicate the maternity allowance that self-employed mums, and mums who haven’t been with their employer for very long, can claim.
Fathers should be entitled to statutory paternity leave from their first day at work, the TUC said, just as mothers are for maternity leave. The TUC also recommended that paternity pay be increased.
Both self-employed and low paid fathers deserve to spend time with their families when a baby arrives, and have the opportunity to share the duties and responsibilities that having a new born brings.
These things don’t just benefit dads – they strengthen the relationship between parents, help with child development and give mums the chance to continue with their careers.
It’s difficult enough for working families in Britain in the current climate and basic parenting rights shouldn’t be affected by a person’s economic situation.
Speaking as a dad, I believe the TUC’s proposals couldn’t be implemented sooner.
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