Only a fifth of working fathers have taken up their right to paid paternity leave, according to official figures.
Are you too busy for paternity leave?
The Inland Revenue estimates only 79,210 fathers have taken time off, the data obtained by the Liberal Democrats shows.
As many as 400,000 fathers each year could be eligible for time off, and take-up was expected to be about 70% when the benefit was launched.
New fathers won the right to two weeks paid paternity leave in April 2003.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Westminster Hour, Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt admitted that take-up had been disappointing.
"We introduced last year two weeks paid paternity leave which had never happened before. A lot of fathers are taking it up, though not enough," she said.
Last year, Statutory Paternity Pay (SPP) was paid at £100 a week or 90% of average weekly earnings if less, for two weeks.
The rate rose to £102.80 a week for the tax year beginning in April 2004 and can be claimed back by employers from the government.
Some employers also offer extra time off and more money for fathers in addition to SPP.
The figures obtained by the Liberal Democrats are based on employer returns to the Inland Revenue for payment of SPP.
They are based on a sample, and the final figures are not expected until April 2005.
But they mirror take-up figures for new flexible working rights, which show 31% take -up among women and only 10% among men.
Malcolm Bruce, the Liberal Democrats' trade and industry spokesman, said: "The right to paid paternity leave will remain an empty victory for fathers as long as cultural norms dictate that duty to their jobs overrides that to their families.
"Men will be reluctant to take up this entitlement as long as they believe it will damage their standing with their peers and their prospects with their employers."
It's not that I am worried about losing my job, I simply can't afford to have time off at a rate of £102 per week. Myself I work full-time during daytime, my wife works part-time some evenings yet we are unable to afford luxuries each month. To lose potentially £300 per week would put us in an uncomfortable position. If you are going to let fathers have time off to spend with their newborns they should have their wages matched in benefits for a certain period.
Paul Godber, Southampton, England
My wife and I are co-owner managing directors of a recruitment consultancy with an identical salary and benefits package. We were lucky to have our second child in June this year, a baby boy called Jay. There is a huge discrepancy between what government support you get for maternity as opposed to paternity and yet both people are as valuable to our company as each other. I am not surprised that there has been so little take up of paternity pay when the government itself stigmatises the issue by creating such a wide inequality. Equal benefits would lead to more equal take up.
Max Bruckshaw, Cheltenham
It may not suit everyone. Personally to take home only £100 a week is a major drop in salary at a time when money needs to be watched.
Ian Feeney, Norton, Cheshire
My employer offers one week of paternity pay at full pay which I took up last year, choosing not to take the second week of statutory pay because I would lose out financially. I think the reason the take up of statutory paternity pay is so low is because many employers do not offer any full pay paternity - the £100 per week is a lot less than their full pay.
Paul Cretney, Guildford, UK
I took 2 weeks paternity leave - three days full paid by my company and the rest of the time out of my paid holiday entitlement.
I could not afford to do it the statutory way, when a baby arrives you need to be careful with finances and it means my wife can stay off work for longer this way.
Its nothing to do with not wanting to take it, its all to do with not being able to afford to take it. Surely at a time when money is needed more than ever, fathers would prefer to take holiday at full pay.
Andy S, Bournemouth, England
To have time with my young family in addition to my annual leave was invaluable. I fortunately was given one weeks paternity leave at full pay and then chose to take a second at the statutory rate. The fortnight together was definitely worth tightening our belts for. I'm not sure what this "cultural norm" is? My first priority is to my family and children - any new rights that I am granted as a young father are great. It is the previous generations who had none of these rights that I feel for.
Mark, Melton Mowbray, Leics.
I will become a Dad for the first time in the few weeks, but there is no way I would take that two weeks' paternity leave because the £100 allowance is just too small. If the government is serious about encouraging fathers to take paternity leave, they have to do more. I love my family and I have decided to take my annual leave to be with wife and baby.
Paul Akinwale, London, England
I took two weeks off for both my children but the second week was taken as annual leave in both cases and would not I assume appear in the stats from the Inland Revenue. Quite simply £100 a week is just not financially viable for a large section of the population.
Steve, Oxford, England
I've just had two weeks paternity leave but I'm fortunate in that my employer gave me a week on full pay and I just had to take the second week on reduced pay. My wife and I saved beforehand in expectation and worked out that for one week we could afford to take the cut in wages. I had a great two weeks with my daughter and am grateful for the opportunity afforded me. The chance is not one to be missed, not only to be with the new born child but to be able to help support my wife.
Peter Docker, Barrow-in-Furness
A government department once again proving they have no grasp of reality. Only a small proportion of people can afford to waiver most of their income over a two week period when they really need security over financial uncertainty.
A half-considered benefit, allowing only those with massive savings, huge salaries or independent means to grab a couple of extra weeks off work. Nonsense.
Simon, Surrey, UK
My employer is very family friendly and offers one week paternity leave on full pay, and a second week at £102. They claim back the £102 for the first week from the government, so it does not cost them that much, whilst the employee does not lose too much pay. If more companies followed their lead it would be easier for fathers to take the two weeks paternity leave.
I took the two weeks off and was grateful for it - I would have taken more off if I could. I know you lose almost a whole week's wage but its only one out of 52. I am amazed that people are worried about their jobs when most people have 2 weeks off at some point in the year anyway and apart from that I wanted to contribute to the beginning of my life as a father as best I could.
Is £100 per week supposed to be enough for a family to live on following the birth of a child? How would the average family pay their bills, buy groceries and cover their mortgage repayments if taking paternity leave and earning only £200 for two weeks.
I took every bit of leave that I could get when my second child was born in February. This included two weeks of paternity leave at full pay (I am a lucky one who works for an employer who recognised the shortcomings of the statutory figure).
New fathers should be encouraged to spend time at home. The current paternity leave benefit is simply not enough for a family to live on. It is not realistic. Employers have to pay maternity leave for months on end - when will it be recognised that a father's involvement is also vital? Surely a month of fully paid leave would not be too much to expect? I spent three months at home following the birth of my first child - I had been made redundant and chose to spend some time out. I know that I am a very different father (to both my children) to the one that I would have been if I did not have this initial bonding time.
Donald, Tunbridge Wells, Kent
My wife and I have a four week old and I had to take time off using my holiday entitlement. Paternity leave is totally unworkable for the average family! I'd like to see Blair and Brown try to pay the mortgage, feed the kids, pay the council tax, utility bills, insurance, petrol, etc, etc on £102 per week.
Adam Howard, Manchester
My wife is due in October and I would love to take paternity leave. However, as my wife will be on SMP our household income will have already dropped considerable. If I was to take SPP I do not know how we would manage.
David Rayworth, Stockport
The only conclusions I can draw from this are: 1) The Government have a very unrealistic view of the cost of living in the UK; 2) It was not really their intention to encourage fathers to take time off work; 3) They expect employers to pick up the tab for the additional costs.
Richard Bryant, Sutton Coldfield, UK
I have just booked Paternity leave of 3 days which my company kindly pays at full pay. I cannot afford to take the remaining 7 days at £102.48 per week, that's £2.77/hour not even the Labour party's own minimum wage!
I'm surprised there are nearly 80,000 fathers who can afford the time off, they're probably all in the £50k or more bracket who wouldn't even notice. It has nothing to do with being a slave to the job. My family is important enough for me to stay at work and earn the money to feed, clothe and house them.
Mark Norris, Brighton, England
At this, the most financially stretching time in parenthood, to take a dip in wages would have been nothing less than irresponsible. Having taken the companies statutory two days paid leave, I was faced with the choice of either topping up by using paid holiday or a vast reduction in earnings and a financial struggle when I least need it. You do the maths!!
Nik Rookes, Marlborough, England
Paternity Pay should at least match Maternity Pay for those two weeks otherwise the majority of families are unable to afford it. This is proof of the fact only 20% have been able to take it! Equal Rights for all!
Tony, Manchester UK
Of course fathers should be reluctant to take paternity leave when their partners give birth. What is wrong with using some of their annual leave, as I did. What a namby-pamby nation we are becoming. No wonder we are becoming commercially uncompetitive with other nations.
John Crocker, Clacton-on-Sea, England
My employer offers two weeks at full pay - I am lucky. My brother-in-law works for a prestigious German company, whom you might think would be even more family-friendly. Not so - he was only offered the statutory minimum of £100 a week (as it was last year) and ended up taking two weeks as holiday instead.
Roger, Swindon, UK
More should be on offer for the middle class worker who is trying to support his family and spend time with them.
Mark Chalfen, London
My wife stopped working when our first child was born, so I have the only income. I would love to take two weeks off when our next child is born, but at £100 per week, it is just not an option.
Andrew Bessent, Gateshead, England
Far better to legislate so that companies have to give at least one weeks leave, preferably two, on full pay to fathers. Try that and see if the take-up improves - I bet it does.
It's nothing to do with being macho or losing your job. Fathers simply cannot afford to have time off at £102 per week. Your partner will now be on maternity pay and in my case we already have another child and other expenses that mean it is just not viable. I took two weeks holiday to be off with my wife when we had our son because it was a better option than £102 per week.
Steve Whitehouse, Dudley, West Midlands
My employer was quite good about my time off luckily and was given two weeks full pay. Had I only been allowed SPP I would have had to use holiday and so would have not bothered. My wife was given full pay for 2 months, then half pay there after, it hardly seems fair, but at least it's a step in the right direction.
Mike Knapp, Gloucester, Glos
Unless you work for a large firm with a great benefits system fathers cannot afford to take two weeks off for a measly £102.80 a week. Unfortunately in our society most fathers are still the breadwinners in their families and £102.80 is a great drop in wages when they could be earning an average of £400 a week at work at a crucial time such as a new arrival in the family. Coupled with the fact that the mother is at home as well invariably on SMP which unless is boosted by a generous employer is not worth a great deal either; having both parents off on a dramatically reduced wage is completely ludicrous.
Anon, Stevenage, Herts
This just shows that politicians really do come from a different planet. It has nothing whatsoever to do with fathers being macho or anything else, but has everything to do with not being able to afford such a big drop in salary at a time when that money is needed more than at any other time.
EB, Croydon, Surrey
I was able to take two weeks paternity leave when my daughter was born (fully Paid by my Employer) only because my manager arranged it. If he hadn't then there is no way I could have taken the drop in wages. But SPP and it's failings are not the main issue when it comes to becoming a parent. Going to a single wage has a devastating effect on a middle income household but you don't get any help with the tax burden, and this is the reason so many mothers have to go back to work, even if only part time. Why can't the mothers tax threshold be transferred to the fathers tax code at least until children are of school age, this would be a real benefit to families and at a time when it is most needed.
Linsey Simmons, Croydon
Anyone who can't afford to miss two weeks pay clearly has so little safety margin in their personal finances that they shouldn't consider having children.
Alistair Gunn, York, UK
I too took holiday rather than see my pay packet slashed. No-one in government can seriously have expected high take up - this was more puff from the department of spin.
I wonder what the proportion of public employers to private offering full pay is?
Chris Searle, Dartford, Kent
I knew there was paternity leave but unfortunately was never told the "ins and outs" of it, so I have just used paid holidays instead. I have a 13-month-old son, and have needed time off in the past, but info. about this has never been filtered to me from my employer. I wish there had been a leaflet distributed or a advertisement campaign. If there was one it was poorly done as I never saw any.
I do wish that so many men would stop moaning about not having equal benefits. The fact that this provision is now in place is certainly a good one but please stop complaining that it isn't enough; the role of the mother and the father in the whole baby process is hardly equal, is it?
Samantha Phillips, Hong Kong
I took two weeks off when my daughter was born without even considering the money. £100 a week is not enough compared to the usual earnings, and yes I did go into debt, but some things are more important than money. The first two weeks of her life can never be relived, whereas a couple of hundred pounds overdrawn can be rectified. I for one take every available minute off to be with my family, the choice does not even need to be made. The government perhaps do need to look at the amount, because the country seems to be money obsessed.
Jon B, Leicester
This really is worse than useless. The government looks as though it has done something when in fact the vast majority of working men cannot afford to take it up. There is no way that I could have taken a drop of £400 a week. The only people it benefits are those on huge salaries - like politicians or that just another example of today's modern cynicism....
Craig Tanswell, Bournemouth, UK
Linsey Simmons' comments are the most pertinent. The tax burden is significant, and in our case even when my wife returns to work the cost of child care will account for more than 45% of her take-home pay.
My employer gives nothing to its employees - I took a weeks paternity leave last year and had a very nice week off. I only got the £100 (before tax) - you can't put a price on spending a week with a new born child. I shall be taking another week this year too for my exams.
£100 pounds a week is a joke - that's not paid leave! Most employers top up maternity pay to a real wage, but how many top up paternity pay - I work for a very large IT company, and they certainly don't. One more example of unfair discrimination against dads.
Martin, Reading, UK
Seems like a clear consensus on this board; £100/week is a joke - most people will take holiday if they can. Paternity leave is pointless piece of spin from Labour; And the Lib Dems are completely missing the point too. The number that matters is how many people have how much time off of whatever sort. We are just getting on with our lives the best we can.
I understand that the arrival of the new baby is not really a time when the family wants to see its income reduced. Certainly for low-income families, it's not an option. However, SPP is the same as SMP past the first six weeks and a lot of women do take more than six weeks SMP when only a few men take SPP. Why? Sorry guys. but I'd say a large part of it comes from a macho attitude: a lot of men are too proud of their "bread-winner" role to give up 2 weeks of wages. Sad. I believe a man can bring much more to his family than money. Same thing applies to part-time work. Probably another factor is the very British culture of borrowing rather than saving. So when comes the time to take time off work, there's no more money in the bank. Debt just ties people to their desks. My man will take his two weeks' SPP and will ask to work part -time (we plan four days a week). I'm so proud of him.
Where is the evidence of this "macho" culture? Certainly not in the replies so far. Give fathers some semblance of equality and provide full pay for the two weeks.