Shared Parental Leave received much fanfare from both the government and the media when it was finally agreed upon and put into action, and as is put brilliantly by Rachel Suff, advisor at CIPD, it marked a “milestone for gender equality”. However, quite surprisingly, this enthusiasm has not been shared by parents.
Parental pay entitled the father up to 2 weeks leave before returning to work. Shared parental pay however enables couples to split a pot of leave between them across up to 3 distinct periods of time.
The main benefits of shared parental leave include; parity of leave for fathers, a real freedom of choice for mothers as well as fathers and families, the end of penalising families where mothers earn more and the simple correction of, what is seen by many, as an inherently sexist status quo.
It all sounds great. However, the rate of uptake has surprised many. Data obtained under the freedom of information request act by People Management found that only a mere 7,100 men shared parent pay last year. However, 221,000 men received statutory paternity pay against a birth rate that is remaining relatively stable every year.
Further, research by CIPD in 2016 found that a mere 5% of fathers and 8% of mothers had taken Shared Parental Leave, and just 21% of employers had received requests for Shared Parental Leave.
Looking back further, an earlier freedom of information request which was made by legal company EMW found that just 3,000 parents took Shared Parental Leave in the first quarter of 2016. For some context, 155,000 mothers took maternity leave and 52,000 fathers who took paternity leave during an equivalent quarter of 2013-2014
Many professionals have sought to explain the possible reasons for the low uptake of such a landmark opportunity.
Rachel Suff from the CIPD posits that “the intentions were right” and that the new change gives parents significantly more “choice” and “flexibility” with regards to taking leave to look after a new child, especially if the mother is the higher earner and the father wants to play a larger role in the new baby’s early life.
However, she points to the “complexity of the rules” and the “financial gap between statutory maternity pay and statutory shared parental pay in the early weeks” as the main reasons for low uptake. These negative elements are often outweighing the positive ones of shared parental leave in the minds of many employees.
The uptake has been so low in fact, that Liberal Democrat MP for East Dunbartonshire, Jo Swinson has decided to take the matter up in parliament. Parliament have responded by saying that they will “evaluate” Shared Parental Leave next year, and that they expect “commissioning survey work to measure take-up as part of their evaluation”. This suggests that while amendments to Shared Parental Leave to make it more attractive have a large likelihood of being achieved, that it will not happen overnight.