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The stigma and the joys of Shared Parental Leave

Posted on 10 April 2018

Hey dads, did you know that you’re allowed to share 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay with your partner after you have a baby, thanks to Shared Parental Leave (SPL)? And did you know you’ve been able to do this since April 2015? If you didn’t, then you’re not alone.

Recent government estimates have shown that since its launch 3 years ago, only 2% of eligible parents have taken advantage of SPL.

SPL allows parents to flexibly take time off separately or to be at home together for up to six months in your child’s first year. It is paid at £140.98 per week or 90% of your average earnings, whichever is lower.

Sweden has had shared parental leave for more than four decades now, and fathers there are encouraged to take up to five months leave.

The perks of paternal bonding

“All the evidence shows that paternity leave encourages bonding and sets a pattern for being more involved in childcare,” says Justine Roberts, CEO of Mumsnet, whose 2014 survey found that 82% of its users would like dads to take more parental leave.

“There’s been a huge shift, even in the last 10 years,” says Jeremy Davies of the Fatherhood Institute. “In 2012 the percentage of British people who believed in what you’d call a ‘traditional model’, where the dad is the breadwinner and the mum is a carer, was only 35%. If you look at the youngest people, the 16- to 25-year-olds surveyed, it’s just 5%.”

So with all this considered why are only 2% of dads taking the extended leave?

The stigma

Working Families chief executive Sarah Jackson said that the fact of the matter is that many families could not afford for fathers to take shared parental leave. "Of those fathers who said they wouldn't use the scheme, more than a third said this was because they couldn't afford to," she said.

Furthermore, research conducted by the law firm EMW in 2017 suggested that part of this low take-up of the SPL scheme was due in part to the perceived stigma in the UK surrounding men taking time off work, believing they might appear less committed to their career.

A study by My Family Care found that fathers who had taken SPL felt that while two months’ absence was manageable, more than that “felt likely to have a ‘negative’ or ‘stalling’ impact on career prospects.” In addition, “taking too much time out of the workplace might start to impact on how you are seen.” However, they do stress that this is fathers’ perceptions rather than evidenced experience.

Of course this negative impact on one’s career, both perceived and evidenced, is nothing new to many women taking maternity leave. The law firm Slater & Gordon found that one in seven women surveyed had lost their job while on maternity leave, while 40% had found their job had changed on returning to work.


Stigma and financial concerns aside, many parents felt they did not understand SPL, or simply were not aware of it. My Family Care found that most fathers discovered SPL through word of mouth rather than through their employer, and that awareness across businesses as a whole was low.

Their research expands on this, finding it is not that “employees felt their employers were being deliberately covert or hiding SPL away. Instead, it’s felt that SPL is not seen as a major business priority and is still in its embryonic stage with people trying to ‘work it out’.” Fathers were often, therefore, left to work it out themselves.

“Share the joy”

The government have recently launched a new “Share the Joy” campaign to boost awareness of the scheme. This campaign will use the experiences of parents who have used SPL to act as positive role models.

For most fathers interviewed, My Family Care found that, “Having a role model makes a huge difference to intentions to take Shared Parental Leave.”

Put simply, if more dads try Shared Parental Leave, and share their experiences then within a decade or two we could see a real shift in parental norms.

It may not be the simplest scheme to understand, but the government have a comprehensive site covering how it works for both employees and employers. Check the site, ask around your office, or speak to your HR department and see if SPL could make a significant difference for your family.