By Claire West
Only 1 in 172 fathers are taking Additional Paternity Leave (APL), according to a new TUC analysis published on Sunday to mark father's day .
The analysis of official figures shows that of the 285,000 dads eligible to take APL just 1,650 (0.6 per cent) did so in 2011/12.
Under APL a father is able to take up to 26 weeks leave and 19 weeks pay when his partner has ended her maternity leave, no earlier than 20 weeks after the birth of the baby.
However, the TUC believes men are not taking advantage of it because the statutory rate of pay for APL is just £136 a week and is almost never topped up by employers. In contrast the first two weeks of Paternity Leave, which is nearly always topped up by employers, is taken up by the majority of fathers.
The TUC says a good gift for fathers this Sunday would be for the government to increase the statutory pay rate for APL and Paternity leave (which is also £136 a week) and for employers to top up both for longer.
However, instead of boosting pay rates ministers have capped annual rises at 1 per cent over the next three years - a real terms cut.
The decision to keep statutory pay rates below inflation and employers' refusal to top up pay beyond two weeks is preventing new dads from spending time with their babies, says the TUC.
Although nine in ten (91 per cent) fathers take some time off following the birth of their child, fewer than one in three (29 per cent) spend longer than two weeks at home.
In addition, the current lack of financial support is having a disproportionate effect on low-income families. Government figures shows that better-paid fathers are 50 per cent more likely to take Paternity Leave than those on low incomes.
The TUC wants Paternity Leave and pay to be extended from 2 weeks to 6 weeks. It says that paying it at 90 per cent of father/partners' average earnings could be introduced as an amendment to the forthcoming Children and Families Bill.
Under that Bill, the government is introducing a system of Shared Parental Leave and Pay to replace APL from 2015. This will allow parents to take leave on a more flexible basis - a move welcomed by the TUC. However, the government anticipates that only between 2 to 8 percent of fathers will use this because it continues to be paid at such a low statutory rate.
The TUC says in other countries where paternity leave and pay have been extended men have taken more time off to spend with their children. In Norway, the proportion of men taking some leave has increased from 4 per cent to 89 per cent since the introduction of a one month father's quota. This quota was extended to six weeks in 2006, and 70 percent of eligible fathers now take more than 5 weeks leave.
In Sweden, the proportion of leave days taken by men doubled between 1997 and 2004 with the introduction and then the extension of a father's quota.
The TUC says that allowing fathers to provide more support to their families will strengthen relationships, improve child well-being and make it easier for mothers to continue their careers.
TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady said: 'A good gift for fathers this Sunday would be for ministers to increase statutory paternity pay rates and for employers to top it up for longer, so that new dads can spend more time with their children.
'Poor levels of financial support are preventing new dads from taking extra time off and are particularly affecting low-paid fathers who simply cannot afford to take leave.
'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.'