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Shared Parental Leave – One Year On

Posted on 11 April 2016

Shared Parental Leave is celebrating its first birthday this month.  The idea behind the initiative was to enable parents to share work and childcare responsibilities more equally than was possible under previous maternity leave rules. To what extent have working parents bought into this new idea? And what difference is it making to those who do?

Shared Parental Leave – a quick reminder

Before we look at the statistics it’s worth having a refresher around the changes which came under the new rules for Shared Parental Leave. Before last April women had the statutory right to take up to 52 weeks leave with men only able to take two weeks off.

The new law effectively pooled the leave, allowing fathers to use up to 50 of the 52 weeks of the mother’s maternity leave following the birth of their child.  Mothers still have to take the initial two weeks off after the birth (four for factory workers) but can swap the remainder for Shared Leave, which can be taken flexibly by either parent.

Parents can opt to take the time concurrently to allow them to be with their newborn together or separately across consecutive periods. It can even be used in blocks throughout the course of the year.  Pay is the same statutory rates as maternity leave.  

Initial research shows limited take-up

Initial research into take-up of Shared Parental Leave points to very few parents taking advantage of the new rules in the first year.

According to research from My Family Care more than four out of 10 employers had not seen a single male employee take up the right.

What are the barriers?

In addition to a lack of awareness among employees, many parents say the policy is financially unworkable for them.  Dads in particular feel asking their boss for an extended period of time off would amount to career suicide. 

Is Shared Parental Leave unworkable in the UK?

The easy conclusion to draw from the first year of Shared Parental Leave is that it is a benefit which is great in theory but, for the majority, unworkable in practice.

Supporters of the idea argue that it is the right idea but one that needs time.

The Nordic countries introduced Shared Parental Leave in the early 1970’s.  It took a further 20 years before it became culturally acceptable for men to use it. Norway, Sweden and Iceland had to introduce initiatives to encourage take-up before it significantly increased.  

In the UK there’s a new generation of young father’s emerging who expect to have a different relationship with their children than their father’s had with them.  It is hotly anticipated this generation will push for a faster pace of change.

Those who take it, value it highly

One thing which is likely to drive wider take-up of Shared Parental Leave is the experience of those who have used it.

Here, the early adopters report mainly positive experiences.  From a practical perspective mother's say it’s great to have a wingman by their side during the never-ending cycle of feeding, crying and nappy.  On an emotional level mothers returning to work say it helped knowing their baby was in loving hands. 

Fathers say how important it has been for them to spend time with their baby in order to develop a deep emotional bond.

What’s more a recent study (OECD 2011, Doing Better For Children) shows children whose fathers invest time in taking time off for childcare enjoy better educational achievement, physical and emotional health.

What lies ahead?

In the short term it is predicted that take-up will increase but at a slow place.

After the first year awareness is rising which will undoubtedly make a difference. More crucially as other fathers request leave the more acceptable it will become and employers and parents will develop a better understanding of how to make it work.

In the medium term learning from the first three years is likely to inform any changes or enhancements when the governments reviews the policy in 2018.

In the meantime parents shouldn’t rule it out.  Look into how people have made Shared Parental Leave work – it could just work for you.