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More than one in five working dads in the UK have missed out on paternity pay in the past twelve months, according to new analysis by the Trade Union Congress (TUC).

Nearly 600,000 working dads have had a child in the past twelve months, but 22% of these did not qualify for two weeks statutory paternity pay – equivalent to more than 131,000 working dads.

The main reason for missing out on paternity leave was self-employment, affecting nearly 99,000 working dads, with the TUC warning that more dads are likely to miss out on valuable time with newborn children as the number of people in self-employment increases.

Self-employment has risen by 21% since before the recession and now stands at 4.7 million, with nearly one in five working men (19%) thought to be self-employed.

A further 32,000 working dads hadn’t been with their current employer long enough to qualify. The law requires dads to have worked for their current employer for at least six months by the 15th week before the baby is due to qualify for paternity leave.

The TUC has also expressed concerns that Government changes to the way statutory paternity pay is uplifted, could result in more working dads forgoing paternity leave due to affordability.

While many fathers in higher-paid jobs can afford to benefit from full paternity pay, those in low-paid employment struggle to take time off work, because statutory paternity pay is only £139.58 per week.

The coalition government changed the way paternity pay is uplifted in 2011, from RPI to CPI, and it capped rises at 1% in 2013 and 2014. If paternity pay was still measured by the RPI method, which historically tends to be higher than CPI, increases in inflation would mean paternity pay would be worth £150.60 a week today.

The TUC has called on the government to introduce a paternity allowance for working dads who do not quality for statutory paternity pay. This would be similar to maternity allowance paid to self-employed mums and mothers who haven’t been with their employer long enough for maternity pay.

Working dads should also be entitled to statutory paternity leave from their first day in the job, say TUC, in the same way as mums can get maternity leave from day one. Paternity pay should also be increased so that fathers can afford to take time off work with their newborn child.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “All fathers should be able to spend time with their families when a new baby comes along.

“Paid paternity leave and shared parental leave have been important steps forward, but many families are missing out on these benefits – or simply can’t afford to use them.

“When fathers share caring responsibilities it helps strengthen relationships, improve child well-being and makes it easier for mothers to continue their careers. We’d like to see all dads being given a right to longer, better-paid leave when a child is born.”

According to a government survey – Maternity and Paternity Rights and Women Returners Survey 2009/10 (pdf) – fathers in unionised workplaces have better access to family leave arrangements.

The survey found: “Fathers who worked in a workplace that had no recognised trades union were more likely to report having no access to family leave arrangements (22%), compared with ten per cent of fathers working in an organisation with a trades union. The latter group was also more likely to have access to three or more family leave arrangement.”

The survey also found that only half of fathers took their full two-week entitlement to paternity leave, with most citing affordability as the main reason for this decision.

Frances O’Grady added: “I would urge all parents and parents-to-be to join a union to make sure their interests are represented and their voices heard at work.”