Pay still a barrier to shared parental leave take-up

Experts call for greater tracking of employee interest and for financial incentives above the statutory minimum

One year after the introduction of shared parental leave critics have called for a more accurate picture of the policy’s impact on organisations’ childcare policies and employees’ perception of working parents.

Research from the Women’s Business Council and employer support firm My Family Care found that just 1 per cent of all male employees had taken shared parental leave since it was launched.

However, the poll also asked 1,000 individuals about the policy, and, of the men surveyed in that group who had children during that year and were eligible for the leave, 30 per cent had taken the opportunity.

According to the research, the majority of companies were unable to report the size of their male populations that were eligible for shared parental leave.

The government currently doesn’t track the number of workers who have taken up shared parental leave, which critics have suggested leaves a murky picture of the actual impact of the policy on dads taking time out from work to share childcare arrangements with their partner.

The government introduced the concept of mothers sharing leave with their partners in April 2015 through the children and families bill. The move allows women to end their maternity leave early and convert the balance to shared parental leave that can be taken by either parent and potentially by both at the same time.

In the research published today, just 40 per cent of employees said their firm encourages it, and employers are still reluctant to enhance their offering for shared parental leave, with more than half of organisations offering better maternity pay than shared parental pay. Just 47 per cent of employers offer only statutory pay for shared parental leave.

A further small proportion offer enhanced shared leave pay but at a lower rate than their maternity pay, according to the sample of 20 HR directors.

The research found that 63 per cent of men who already have young children, and are considering having more, would choose to take shared parental leave in future. Financial constraints were cited as the main reason men didn’t consider it to be a viable option.

A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills said: “When the policy was introduced, the government estimated that around 285,000 couples would be eligible for shared parental leave and that the take-up would be between 2 and 8 per cent.

“Take-up is likely to be higher in organisations that offer pay above the statutory minimum. We will evaluate the policy by 2018 and this will enable us to estimate the actual take-up of shared parental leave.”

Al Ferguson, founder of support group The Dad Network, said: “Many working dads still feel it’s their duty to go out and earn the money, despite having this option to stay at home with their new baby.

“This is slowly shifting, however, in other areas of society and I think it’s only a matter of time before we see that 1 per cent figure rise. That said, there are many hurdles that need to be overcome first. Shared parental leave is a slow step forward; the fact that dads have this option that they never had before is fantastic.”

My Family Care founder Ben Black said: “The key thing for businesses is to help their employees combine work and family by providing them with choices and enabling them to carry on with their careers while having a family.

“We’re going to hear more and more fantastic stories of fathers, at senior levels, who have taken shared parental leave, and once these stories filter through, and the notion of sharing leave in this way becomes normal, then it will be accepted practice and that 1 per cent will gradually increase.”


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