Ben Power’s recent article for People Management asked, “why is nobody taking shared parental leave”? And he is not alone, it seems, in suggesting the UK’s newest type of parental leave, introduced in 2015, might not be fit for purpose.

The government estimates that take-up rates of shared parental leave (“SPL”) have been as low as 2% of eligible couples and it has recently spent £1.5 million on a marketing campaign, “Share the joy”, to encourage greater participation by parents.

Read Ben’s original article for People Management here.

In its report, Fathers and the Workplace (published in March 2018), parliament’s Women and Equalities committee concluded that radical changes were needed to meet the government’s objective for mothers and fathers to share child care more equally. The committee identified various barriers which currently prevent more parents sharing leave, including the requirement for mothers to “give up” their maternity leave and pay, the complexity of applying for shared leave, the low rate of statutory pay and cultural and social ideas about child care.

It recommended that:

  • Fathers and second parents should be eligible for leave in their own right  so that mothers’  entitlements to maternity leave and pay would be unaffected.
  • Paternity pay should be 90 per cent of salary (with a cap for higher earners) for the first four weeks followed by eight weeks at statutory levels.

The government is due to review shared parental leave this year so, we may very well see some substantial changes, if not the outright abolition of what appears to have become the “orphan” of parental leave rights.

Comment

It is quite clear that economics play a very large part in couples’ reluctance to take up shared parental leave. Shared parental leave is only paid at statutory rates of pay, unless your employer is more generous – but they don’t have to be. The Employment Appeal Tribunal recently confirmed that employers don’t have to enhance shared parental pay in the same way that they might do for women on maternity leave. You can read the case report here.

It is therefore entirely rational for the lower earner in a couple to stay at home and take responsibility for child care. In the majority of cases, that will be the mother as it will be the man in a couple who earns more. Until the numbers add up, it seems very unlikely that more fathers will be encouraged to take leave to care for their children, even if they want.

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