The government is spending £1.5 million on a new campaign to promote awareness of the right of parents to take shared parental leave. Although around 285,000 couples qualify for shared parental leave each year, it is believed the take up rate is as low as 2%. The new advertising initiative encourages parents to “share the joy”.
As part of the current campaign a new website will be set up to provide more detailed guidance on shared parental leave rights. There is existing information on shared parental leave and pay on the government’s website.
Shared parental leave was introduced in 2015. The right allows parents to share up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of statutory pay in the first 12 months of a baby’s life. They can take time off together or separately, which was a significant change from previous parental rights.
In order to start taking shared parental leave, the mother must elect to bring her maternity (or adoption) leave to an end and commence shared parental leave.
Currently, statutory shared parental pay (ShPP) is the same as statutory maternity pay (SMP) – £140.98 a week or 90% of average weekly earnings, whichever is lower except that during the first 6 weeks of maternity leave SMP is paid at 90% of actual earnings (with no maximum).
The reason for the low take up of shared parental leave is likely to be largely economic. It is still more likely that the woman in a couple will be earning less than her male partner so the disincentive for a father to take (or share) leave which is paid at the statutory rate is significant.
Many employers pay enhanced maternity pay to mothers but do not currently do the same for employees on paternity leave. Legal challenges to this position have been launched and it will be interesting to see whether any move towards paying both parents enhanced pay increases take up rates of shared parental leave.