Using data collected from HMRC through freedom of information requests, law firm EMW Law found that less than one in three (31%) of eligible new fathers took the leave they were entitled too, compared to 32% the previous year.
This is the fourth year in a row that the number of men taking paternity leave has fallen, with the percentage standing at 34 per cent in 2014/15.
In contrast, the number of women choosing to take maternity leave has risen by approximately 5 per cent in the last four years.
A new father can take a maximum of two weeks’ paternity leave and claim up to £148.68 per week, but only if they are a contracted employee who has worked for their employer for at least 26 weeks before the birth.
Jon Taylor, of EMW, told Independent that taking time off after welcoming a baby has become “an unaffordable luxury” for many new dads, particularly taking into account the cost of childcare.
“While the problem is particularly acute among gig economy workers and the self-employed, even those who are eligible for paternity pay still face a pay cut by taking time off,” he said.
“Shared parental leave is a very well-meaning policy, but it has not yet made any significant inroads into the issue of men being unable to take paternity leave. In fact, the gap between men and women taking time off for the birth of a child is actually widening.”
Last month it was claimed Theresa May wants to offer new fathers 12 weeks paid paternity leave as part of her legacy plans.
New dads could get the first four weeks on 90 per cent pay, and a further eight weeks on a standard flat rate.
The plans come as it was revealed that shared parental leave, the scheme introduced to help new parents balance work and family life, is not being taking up by parents.
Recent statistics found that just 1 per cent of eligible new parents took up the scheme in 2017/18.
Further research by Talking Talent Talking Talent with Censuswide found that half (51%) of respondents thought that fathers who took shared parental leave would experience a detrimental effect on their careers.
Meanwhile over half of dads (53%) feared judgement if they chose shared parental leave, versus 34% of mothers.
As a result, 51% of fathers wouldn't want to share parental leave, versus 41% of mothers.
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Now experts are calling for changes to ease pressure on new parents.
“Gender equality shouldn't mean that being a working parent has to be as hard for men as it has been in the past for women,” says Chris Parke, Co-founder and CEO, Talking Talent.
“We believe that men should be able to take more time off to bond with their newborn and adjust to their whole new reality together as a family, without having to share.
“However, unless Paternity Leave Pay can at least offer 90% of a dad's salary for the first four weeks of parental leave, it's unlikely to have any take-up – and could in fact be a barrier, depending on wage.”
Parke goes onto point out that the UK is one of the least family-friendly countries.
“More needs to be done by UK businesses to champion working dads,” he continues.
“We often talk about the penalties brought by motherhood, but it's time we start talking about – and addressing – the fatherhood penalty too. Extending parental leave is just one way of doing this.”
The move forms part of a wider attempt to tackle gender inequality in the workplace and encourage new mums back into work.
The idea is that the extended paternity leave could offer new parents a greater incentive to share child-raising responsibilities so that mothers can more easily return to the workforce.