As the imminent birth of the new Shared Parental Leave (SPL) legislation draws ever closer – Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has commented that the changes will not only create a fairer working environment but benefit the economy by also boosting productivity. In this article, Keystone’s Employment expert Rachel Tozer shares her own views on the impact the new laws could have.
Available for parents of babies due from the 5th of this year April, the SPL laws are designed to provide new mothers with the option to opt into a system which allows the parents more flexibility over who takes leave to look after the baby. SPL is also available to parents adopting children from 5th April. For the first time parents will be able to take more than 2 weeks leave together without having to use their holiday entitlement. They will also be able to return to work in between periods of leave if their employers agree. .
Mr Clegg has said the new law will “a more family friendly Britain which works for them, not against them”.
"Put simply,” he continues, “we’re relegating these out-dated assumptions that women will always be the parents at home while fathers go out to work…We know more men want to be more involved with their children at home and, crucially, we know the difference it makes to a child’s development when they do.”
“With the introduction of Shared Parental Leave, mothers and fathers will for the first time ever be able to decide for themselves how to divide the leave available after their child is born.”
“This isn’t just fairer for families but it’s better for the economy too, boosting business productivity and helping companies recruit and keep the best talent."
However, Mr Clegg’s comments fail to address the practical reality for most families. Fathers have been able to take additional paternity leave, if the mother had returned to work, since 2011. However, the take up rate has been extremely low – around just 1% of those eligible.
It is generally accepted that there are two main reasons why so few fathers take more than 2 weeks off work to spend with their new baby – money and cultural perception. The new SPL laws may well help to change cultural views that it is “normal” for mothers to take time off work during the baby’s first year but that this was not a “natural” role for fathers. Hopefully, the changes will give fathers the reassurance that their careers will not be negatively affected by taking leave to look after their baby. However, this only seems likely if the take up rate is high, meaning that fathers taking leave becomes the norm in the workplace. Unfortunately this is most unlikely due to financial constraints.
Unlike maternity leave (which is paid at 90% of the mother’s earnings for the first 6 weeks) SPL is paid at the basic rate of £138.18 throughout. In families where the mother is the higher earner, it will make financial sense for her to return to work and for the father to take leave (as it does with additional paternity leave). However, where the father is the higher earner, many families will not be able to afford the “luxury” of Dad seeing his baby’s first steps. Even the Government only anticipates that the take up rate will be between 2 and 8%.
Two of the Government’s aims were to have a flexible and simple system. Whilst SPL certainly gives parents flexibility but it is actually a rather complex scheme for both parents and employers, meaning it could leave some parents unwilling to take advantage of it.
For many reasons therefore, it remains to be seen whether SPL will truly have a noticeable effect on Britain’s economy.
Rachel Tozer has prepared a brochure designed to help parents and employers understand the tortious hurdles they will have to leap when considering SPL. If you would like a copy please click here.
All quotes used throughout this article were taken from www.libdems.org.uk/encouraging-family-friendly-working
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.