Frank Young is Campaigns Director for the Centre for Social Justice.
Any Government serious about social mobility must be serious about dads. Positive fatherhood plays a crucial role in supporting children make the most of their potential, boosting social mobility, and improving life chances.
Recent research from the University of Edinburgh found the active involvement of a father figure in poorer families increases the chances of a child escaping poverty by a quarter.
A positive father figure also boosts educational attainment – fathers taking an interest in their child’s education is shown to have a dramatic effect on their academic achievement.
Whichever way we look at it, dads matter. But today the Centre for Social Justice releases a survey showing that too little is done to support and encourage fathers and combat the emergence of a worrying ‘Dad Gap’.
Worryingly this is particularly the case for fathers from low income backgrounds, who are more than twice as likely to have little or no support or information prior to becoming a father than those from wealthier backgrounds.
Only one in four of the fathers we surveyed told us there was enough support to help them play a positive role in family life with almost half (47 per cent) of all dads telling us they felt undervalued by society.
Our poll found that parenting and antenatal support is also becoming a middle-class preserve, as less than a third of low income fathers attended an antenatal or parenting class compared to 71 per cent of their higher earning counterparts.
This is despite those from low income backgrounds finding them more useful – 85 per cent of low income fathers said they got a lot out of parenting classes, compared with 67 per cent of better off dads.
The ‘Dad Gap’ exists online too. Use of the internet as a guide to parenting since the early noughties has seen a fourfold increase, however 45 per cent of fathers in the top two household income brackets using the internet for information compared to 26 per cent in the bottom two household income brackets.
The impact of a positive father figure is hard to ignore and this should matter for any Government that is committed to social mobility and supporting the least well off.
The Centre for Social Justice is asking the Prime Minister to commit to making her Government the most father friendly ever when she delivers her first major speech fleshing out her plans for ‘social reform’.
We are asking the Government to appoint a Fatherhood Champion within the Department for Work and Pensions. They would support the Government in developing a distinct set of policies aimed at encouraging positive father engagement and help ensure our public services reach out effectively to new dads.
A new Fatherhood Champion could also be given the full backing of the Prime Minister to roll out a national programme of parenting support for fathers, shine a light on best practice, and encourage a positive approach to fatherhood across Government.
Crucially the Government needs to commit to closing this ‘Dad Gap’ by ensuring dads from all background get the support they need.
Positive father engagement improves children’s life chances and should be seen as an important component of the Government’s efforts to tackle poverty and improve social mobility.
It is time for the Government to make a big deal of the role of dads and make fatherhood policy part of the Government’s ambition for social reform.