Perhaps I should begin by declaring an interest: Mrs Griffiths and I are expecting our first child in April. As the Minister responsible, I will be taking my full paternity leave.
Shared parental leave and pay was developed by the coalition Government. It enables working couples to share childcare responsibility in the first year. It is a radical step forward in the challenging of cultural expectations about the roles of men and women and the idea that the mother is always the primary carer. The Government understand the pressures on working families. We are taking steps to improve the take-up of the scheme, about which I shall say more in due course.
I welcome the Minister’s comments and agree that the introduction of shared parental leave and pay was a radical step that is making a difference, but is he aware that fathers get only the mother’s basic maternity pay, which is not enhanced in any way, so uptake of the scheme has been less than 1%? Will he look into this matter, particularly in the light of the court ruling in Snell v. Network Rail, and ensure that dads get a better deal?
There would be significant costs to the taxpayer and business were we to increase the rates of parental pay. We are not ruling that out, but it is important that we understand the facts before we change any policy. I am sure that the hon. Lady will be pleased that the Government have done a huge amount to support fathers and mothers in relation to parental leave. We have cut income tax for more than 13 million women, introduced tax-free childcare and extended free childcare for three and four-year-olds to 30 hours a week, and we are funding people to return to work after a time out. We are a Government who understand the pressures on working families and we are working to help them in their time of need.