Two in three Britons think that more government cash should be spent on helping men to take an equal share of childcare and care for elderly parents, a new poll has found.
The figure rises to 76% in former “Red Wall” parliamentary seats that switched from Labour to the Tories at the last election, according to the survey by pollsters Survation.
Both findings are contained in a new report by the Commission on a Gender-Equal Economy, which calls for sweeping changes to UK policy on welfare, tax and social policy, including a proposal to put paternity leave on the same legal footing as maternity leave.
The study, “Creating a Caring Economy: A Call to Action”, recommends universal free childcare, a universal basic income for all pensioners, independent taxation of income for partners and a corporation tax of 24% to help fund the changes.
In the UK paternity leave lasts for just two weeks, while maternity leave lasts up to a year. Although shared parental leave was introduced by the Tory-Lib Dem coalition, its pay rates are so low that just 2% of eligible couples used it last year.
The policy allows couples to share up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of statutory shared parental pay between them, but at a maximum rate of £151.20 per week that many find impossible to live on.
In its report, the Commission - set up by the Womens’ Budget Group in early 2019 - calls for “equal legal entitlements to paid caring leave for all employees and self-employed people”.
Just 208,000 fathers claimed paternity pay last year, compared to 649,000 women who received maternity pay.
Some companies such as insurance giant Zurich UK have been leading the way, offering 16 weeks full pay to both mothers and fathers, but campaigners say government needs to step in to equalise rights.
Zurich revealed on Tuesday that almost three-quarters (70%) of its employees who have become new fathers take advantage of its new paternity benefit, with most taking at least three months of leave.
The Survation poll found that nearly four in five of all respondents (79%) and three in four men (75%) agree that women and men should share care tasks for children or older and disabled relatives equally.
A total of 61% of Conservative voters believe that men should be “encouraged and financially supported by the government” to do more care, with 72% for all men aged 18-34 agreeing.
Mary-Ann Stephenson, director of the group, said that there were serious legal barriers on leave policy, as women were granted 12 months’ leave and men just two weeks paternity pay.
Stephenson added that the 43% gender earnings gap meant it made economic sense for many women to take time off work rather than a male partner.
“Then there are cultural barriers. There is an expectation among employers that women will take leave and that men won’t. In male dominated sectors that can mean that there is no culture of men taking leave and managers may be very unsympathetic,” she said.
Marion Sharples, project manager of the Commission, and author of the report, said: “This report has launched as we are entering a second wave of coronavirus. For far too long the government has been tinkering with policies and expecting these tweaks to deliver wholly different outcomes.
“What the polling and the Commission’s report show us is that in order to have an economy that works for everyone we need a bold vision of an economy that includes everyone.Both women and men want to change this and they are willing to pay for it through higher tax
“Care is central to this vision. We will all require care at some point in our lives. At the moment care work isn’t shared fairly, with women doing the majority of care, both paid and unpaid. This means women have less time for paid work and other activities, so they earn less, own less and are more likely to be living in poverty.”
Some 75% of respondents say they would pay more tax to support investment in free social care for all adults over the age of 65 and disabled people. A similar percentage (74%) would be willing to pay more tax to support a pay rise for all key workers.
Caroline Nokes, Tory chair of the women and equalities select committee, urged ministers to consider the “bold and ambitious” proposals.
“The Covid-19 crisis has highlighted the inequalities in our society, especially gender inequality. It is now impossible to ignore,” she said.
“Long term failure to adequately gender-check government policies has led to women faring worse than men in multiple ways – taking on the burden of care, being over represented in low paid and insecure jobs, and hit hard by decisions around sector shutdowns and re-opening.”