United Kingdom

Shared parental leave fails to take off

September 2018

Research shows that shared parental leave (SPL) has not had much success in the workplace with as little as a two per cent take-up rate.

Personnel Today reported on a study from University College London (UCL) which found that parents were put off by the financial implications.

SPL was launched by the government in 2015 and allows parents to share up to 50 weeks of leave and up to 37 weeks of pay between them according to the government’s web page on the subject.

Fathers taking shared parental leave are entitled to up to £145.18 a week of statutory pay.

Research found that just 8 per cent of expecting parents planned to use the entitlement but suggests the scheme can still be saved if fathers’ pay was reviewed and if it became normalised with more fathers taking it up.

According to the research involving 575 expecting parents, 61 per cent had heard of the scheme but only 57 per cent met the eligibility criteria. Data was gathered from two antenatal clinics in London between November 2016 and January 2017.

Financial barriers came out as the main reason for the low take-up rate with around half of parents saying that it didn’t make financial sense, 36 per cent felt it would affect the father’s career for the worse, and 24 per cent said it would affect the ability of the mother to breastfeed. A further 41 per cent said they would take-up SPL if the father could receive his own leave entitlement without affecting the amount of leave the mother could take.

The report cited that some employers offer “enhanced” shared parental pay to help relieve the financial burden.

Katherine Twamley, senior lecturer at UCL, explained uptake might increase if employers enhanced fathers’ pay at a time that better suited the parents. Some parents would not have taken SPL had the father not received enhanced pay.

She said: “What often happens is that employers imitate what mothers are given in their SPL policies – for example, full pay for the first four months after the birth.

“Enhanced pay could perhaps be offered within [another period] in the first year, not just in the first four months.”

Raoul Parekh, senior associate at law firm GQ Little said: “Someone on £50k a year will take an 80% pre-tax pay cut on SPL unless their employer chooses to enhance.”

He said that the government needs to step in if it wants to see real change to the numbers taking SPL and suggests employers must realise that family-friendly benefits can be a recruitment draw.

Parekh recommended that fathers should be paid for the 12 weeks’ leave in the same way as mothers are paid during maternity leave – similarly allowing employers to reclaim the cost from HMRC.

Aon’s Jeff Fox said: “There is a huge interest amongst employers around leave policies generally. This is being driven by a desire to improve diversity and inclusion in order to attract and retain employees. Shared parental leave when seen in that context is really important; it can make a real difference.

“Employers will need to give thought to how it is implemented and there is obvious complexity,” continued Fox, “but the direction of travel is set: shared parental leave is here to stay.”

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