New dads turn their backs on employment paternity leave after just two weeks - because of the low statutory pay rates

Employment paternity leave is being largely shunned by new fathers after two weeks off work, according to a new study.

The figures have prompted the Business Department to say that it wants to "challenge the myth" that it is the mother's role to take time off to remain at home and care for children.

The low take-up is mainly because fathers cannot afford to live on the small statutory rate of pay they would get (136 a week), which is rarely topped up by employers, said the TUC.

Most fathers take the first fortnight of paternity leave, conversely, because this is normally topped up by bosses.

The TUC report showed that just 1,650 (0.5%) of 285,000 men eligible to take up to 26 weeks leave, did so in 2011/12.

TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady said that an ideal Father's Day present on Sunday (June 16) would have been for the Government to raise statutory paternity pay levels and for employers to top it up for longer, so that new dads could spend more time with their children.

Ms O'Grady said that low rates of financial support are preventing new fathers from taking additional leave.

She said they are especially affecting low-paid fathers who cannot afford to take time off.

Ms O'Grady added: "Extending paternity pay from two to six weeks and paying a better statutory rate would make a massive difference, as has been shown in other countries."

A Business Department spokesman described the present parental leave system as "old-fashioned and too rigid".

He said: "We want to challenge the myth that it is the mother's role to stay at home and care for children."

This is why, the spokesman said, that the Government is launching a system of shared parental leave from April 2015 so that fathers can take more leave if they want to in the early days of a child's life.

He said: "Men will be more able to get better involved with the caring of their children from the earliest stages and evidence shows this sort of involvement has significant benefits for children's educational and emotional development in later life."

Copyright Press Association 2013