Sharing is caring – or is it?

By Genevieve Bach, Public Affairs Manager

Following a consultation process, which the CIPD fed into earlier this year, the Government has announced plans to allow mothers and fathers to choose to split parental leave more equally between them.  Under the new “Shared Parental Leave” proposals, following the first two weeks recovery period reserved for the mother after birth, parents will have the option to share the remaining leave and pay between them, up to a total of 52 weeks.


It is intended that these changes will challenge the age-old model of the mother staying at home while the father goes out to work, enabling fathers to spend more time with their children in the early stages and, on the other hand, reducing the impact that a pregnancy can often have on a mother’s career by allowing her to return to work earlier should she wish to. 


The CIPD broadly welcomed the proposals as a step in the right direction towards greater flexibility in the workplace.  However, implementing the proposals will not come without its challenges for employers, and we won’t be surprised if managers report teething problems in the initial stages.


It may at first sight seem confusing to both employers and employees that they will have to rely on using KIT days if they want to take parental leave on a part-time basis.  The concept of KIT days was designed to allow mothers to take up to ten ‘Keeping In Touch’ days during maternity leave without losing any entitlement to maternity pay. The employer is not obliged to offer any KIT days and the employee is not obliged to work any that are offered. But the number of possible KIT days is now to increase to 50 per couple (20 per parent, plus the 10 to which women were already entitled).  Given this large increase, it will be essential that parents should discuss their preferred pattern of working with their employer in good time, so that employers are able to anticipate what they need to do in response. 


Another change regards the right to return to the same or similar job. Women on maternity leave are currently entitled to return, either to the jobs in which they were employed - if returning within six months - or ones of equivalent status - if returning later.  The proposed requirement on employers to allow mothers and fathers to return to the same, and not just a similar job may make life more difficult for some employers, and some initial support or guidance from Government on how to make this work may be welcome. 


The CIPD will also look for opportunities to provide guidance for employers on how best to make these new proposals work, as well as monitoring implementation, highlighting good practice to employers, and raising with Government any areas where the policy is creating unintended consequences or could otherwise be improved.


Of course, the employer angle is only one side of the story.  Traditionally, few fathers have taken advantage of the additional paternity leave already available to them, and some do not even take their first two weeks of paternity leave – recent research by the TUC found that only 1% of the fathers they surveyed took advantage of additional paternity leave up to 26 weeks, compared to nine in ten taking the first two weeks.  Affordability is an important factor here: employers often do not top up the statutory pay rate for paternity leave, and many fathers report that they cannot afford to live on this level of pay for long. 


The question is: will fathers’ take-up of parental leave change with the introduction of Shared Parental Leave, or is there a wider cultural issue at play here which needs addressing?  Fathers have traditionally tended to be the higher earners, and remain so (although the balance is gradually shifting), so it has often made better financial sense for fathers to remain in work while the mother stays home.  The issue of paternity pay is something the Government intends to re-visit once the economy is in a stronger position – until then, the proportion of fathers taking up Shared Parental Leave is probably not likely to skyrocket, although we can hope for some positive change!


However, even this might be optimistic – another recent piece of research by NatCen/University of East Anglia showed that men with a partner and children at home tend to work more hours than men who do not, with three in ten working 48-hour weeks and one in ten working more than 60 hours.  And it’s unlikely (to say the least) that all of the men who do not use their entitlement to paternity leave do so solely for financial reasons – current take-up is far too low for this to be explained away in this way.  Do we still live and work in a culture where parenting is primarily seen as a woman’s job, while the father brings home the bacon?  And how can we ensure that Shared Parental Leave works for the benefit of all parties?


We’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

Thank you for your comments. There may be a short delay in this going live on the blog page as we moderate the comments added to our blogs.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with much of your post, Genevieve. However, I'm not sure I see your point about the 'right to return to the same job'. Under SPL, employees will only have the right to return to the same job when returning from any period of leave that includes maternity, paternity, adoption or SPL that totals 26 weeks or less in aggregate. Any subsequent leave will attract the right to return to the same job or, if that is not reasonably practicable, a similar job. So there is no change to 'right to return' that will "make life more difficult for some employers".

  • I agree with what you are saying Genevieve.  Even in realtionships where the woman is the higher earner many men still see it as their role to work and help provide.  This is societal  and cultural issues, and not helped by the gender stereotypes we are still seeing in schools as reported last week.

  • Thanks, Richard and Kate, for taking the time to read the blog and leave comments - feedback is always appreciated!

    Richard - we have discussed on Twitter but it occurs to me I probably could have been clearer in the blog by what I meant.  For the benefit of other readers: when I refer to potential problems for employers, I'm mainly envisaging potential complications that could arise from mothers and fathers returning to the same job even when leave is taken in discontinuous blocks, rather than one single block, as now.  

    Of course, if fathers do not rush to take up their entitlement, there will be fewer problems for employers, but is that a happy trade-off?  In terms of what SPL hopes to achieve for mothers looking to re-enter the workplace, a huge part of changing attitudes (and the discrimination that unfortunately still occurs) towards women of childbearing age will depend on fathers taking more parental leave.  

    As with any new system, SPL will probably take some time to get used to, and guidance for employers will no doubt be welcome, but certainly our members are largely positive about the change and we look forward to working with them to support them through the changes.

    I hope you both have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!