Sourcing suitable replacement labour, financial constraints and societal norms may mean many new mothers are left “holding the baby” whilst fathers experience an intensely pressurised start to fatherhood.
Five years ago, the options for new fathers to spend time with their newborns and support the mother through the early days of parenting were limited.
It very much depended on their employment terms and conditions. If they were self-employed there was even less on offer.
In 2016, this changed for the better with the introduction of paternity benefit, which offered two weeks of leave for the father.
Since the scheme was introduced, the general trend on its uptake has been increasing, with 27,020 recipients in 2019
A payment of €245 per week is available to fathers if they satisfy certain criteria such as paying PRSI and they submit the necessary paperwork to their employer/Revenue in advance of the birth. This leave can be taken during the first six months of the baby’s life.
Since the scheme was introduced, the general trend on its uptake has been increasing, with 27,020 recipients in 2019 – although this rate is only 60% that of maternity benefit.
Up to 42,576 mothers availed of maternity benefit (26 weeks leave from work with a €245 weekly payment covered by social insurance) in the same period.
Information released by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) which analyses the uptake on various schemes highlights that up to 50% of eligible fathers in Ireland do not avail of this parental leave.
Some sectors are more affected than others with over 57% of fathers working in accommodation and food service, eg hotels and restaurants not availing of the scheme.
The reasons for not claiming paternity benefit are many, with financial constraints possibly being high on the list
The second-most impacted sector for not availing of this paid leave is the agriculture, forestry and fishery sector at 54.4%. Construction workers are comparable at just 52%.
The agriculture, forestry and fishery sector employs over 265,400 people (men and women) in Ireland (CSO date 2016).
Of these, Eurostat data shows that approximately 88.4% of those are males which makes the uptake of paternity leave a very relevant issue to Ireland.
The reasons for not claiming paternity benefit are many, with financial constraints possibly being high on the list.
The cost of replacing the father whether on the farm or in the forestry and fishery sector for even a portion of that time far outweighs the payment received under the paternity benefit scheme.
There are also the practical implications of trying to source and train in a replacement worker for what is at most a relatively short timeframe.
Cultural expectations can also dictate that many men feel they are expected to continue working full time whilst simultaneously providing physical and emotional support to the mother, and bonding with their baby.
Further research is needed to examine the suitability of the paternity leave scheme
These additional demands add to the level of stress and exhaustion which most new parents experience in those early days. Further research is needed to examine the suitability of the paternity leave scheme and explore the reasons why so many fathers are choosing not to avail of it.
There are many benefits to be gained for parents, children and society if fathers were enabled to spend those early days focusing on what should be one of the best experiences of their life.