Just after the first anniversary of the launch of Shared Parental Leave (SPL), a study by My Family Care revealed that just 1% of men have taken up the opportunity to do so. The Keystone Law Employment Team looks at why so few have embraced SPL and what employers can do to improve participation.

Shared Parental Leave was introduced in the UK with much fanfare by the Government. The main intention behind the new scheme to allow families more choice over how they look after their children in the first year of their life and to allow and encourage both parents to share the 52 week’s leave, 37 weeks of which is paid.

It sounded great in theory, very European and a fairer reflection of a more equal 21st Century society. Ben Foden, The Northampton Saints and England rugby star fronted the “new man” campaign to encourage fathers to take Shared Parental Leave, encouraging men to be hands-on and help support their wives careers and take more time off to look after their new child, change nappies and bond with their offspring, like him.

Cynical fathers might say that it certainly helps if you, like Foden, are earning over £200,000-a-year as a Rugby player and your wife is a pop star in the girl band The Saturdays, who are said to be worth more than £2.5million!

Is it working?

According to recent research by My Family Care, only 2% of companies in the UK have seen a significant uptake of SPL. The government’s own assessment suggested that although there are about 285,000 working fathers in the UK eligible to take the leave only 2-8% would do so. It seems they were correct.

It would appear then that a year on, the government’s intention, that both parents and families would be sharing parental leave to care for their children in the first 12 months of their life is not working.

Why is take up so low?

There appear to be various factors in the low take up of SPL generally and particularly amongst fathers:-

  • Money – the statutory minimum payment of £139.58 a key factor, unlike in Sweden and Norway where 9 out of 10 fathers are eligible to take shared parental leave and between 80-100% of their earnings are covered whilst they are on leave.
  • Fears over career progression – extended time off being negatively perceived
  • Mothers not wanting to share their leave
  • Subconscious inbuilt male perceived duty to earn money for the family rather than remain at home
  • TUC research showing as many in 2 in 5 fathers ineligible as partners not in paid work or they fail to meet the qualifying conditions
  • Complicated process and rules
  • Not enough employers paying enhanced shared parental pay

What can employers do to encourage more take up?

  • Consider paying enhanced pay for SPL. There are cost consequences to the business and potential discrimination issues to consider with implementing such a scheme.
  • Consider actively promoting SPL to attract new employees and retain and encourage existing employees.
  • Ensure managers, HR and pay roll understand and the new scheme and employees are actively encouraged to apply and have access to clear forms and policies to guide them on their rights.
  • Consider promoting a particular individual who has elected to take SPL as a case study internally within the company and externally to promote equal opportunity/good employer values with the consent of the employee in question.
  • Lobby the government to contribute towards the costs of paying enhanced parental leave as in Norway and Sweden.

A final thought

The Government will be reviewing its policy on shared parental leave in 2018, but, given the current take up figures, unless employers decide to pay enhanced parental pay and actively encourage take up in their business, the take up is unlikely to improve before then.

Personally, it says a lot that the majority of men in the UK take less than 5 days paternity leave to care or assist with the care for their new born baby and that prior to the introductions of SPL on 5th April 2014, paternity leave for fathers was 2 weeks maximum compared with 52 weeks maternity leave for mothers.

I have three children, all born before SPL was introduced. I chose to take 3 days, 5 days and 5 days of annual leave, respectively, to be there for them. This felt like the right amount of time in that moment but, with the new SPL initiative and a high earning wife in a girl group, maybe I would have taken more!

Keystone is delighted to be able to offer employers a free guide with flow charts showing the process parents need to follow to take Shared Parental Leave. If you would like to receive a copy, please click here.

This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. It should not be used as a substitute for legal advice relating to your particular circumstances. Please note that the law may have changed since the date of this article.