• Fewer than one in 1,000 employees have used shared parental leave

  • 30 May 2017
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Survey suggests ‘little appetite or knowledge’ among working dads to take advantage of landmark policy

Fewer than one in 1,000 employees have taken up shared parental leave (SPL) since the landmark policy was launched roughly two years ago, new research has found.

The study by solicitors’ firm Milners discovered that just 54 of more than 56,000 people surveyed had taken up SPL since it was launched in April 2015.

“SPL was trumpeted as a family-friendly policy, designed to help working dads improve their work-life balance, spend more time in a ‘hands on’ role raising their family and lift the load from their partners, but our analysis suggests that there is either little appetite for it, little knowledge about it – or both,” said Simon Bass, managing partner of Milners.

“There is also some anecdotal evidence that some working dads fear discrimination, and that their career prospects may suffer if they pursue SPL, and others who are the main breadwinner in the family say it is simply not an affordable option. Both these reasons will give employers and the government important food for thought.”

Ben Black, chief executive of My Family Care, said the low uptake was caused by a combination of male employees’ concerns over how they may be viewed for using SPL, a lack of awareness around the policy, employers’ failure to subsidise SPL in the same way as maternity leave, and some women’s unwillingness to ‘let go’ of their maternity leave.

Black added: “Encouraging SPL take-up is the single best way to stop the maternity transition being a huge career obstacle. Allowing both parents to disconnect from their careers when baby arrives gives everyone the opportunity to share the parental load, bond with baby and take equality to another level. Allowing families to figure out what works best for them leads to employees who feel valued, making them more loyal, engaged and productive.”

Dr Jill Miller, diversity and inclusion adviser at the CIPD, said employers’ approaches towards working parents more generally will influence how comfortable people feel in taking up SPL. “HR can communicate the benefits of SPL for the business – for example, in terms of talent attraction and access to skills – and ensure both mothers’ and fathers’ return to work is adequately supported,” she said.

This is not the first time that the lack of appetite for SPL has been brought to the fore. Past research from the CIPD revealed that just 5 per cent of the new fathers surveyed opted to use SPL. The December 2016 study also found that just one-fifth (21 per cent) of the 1,050 senior HR professionals surveyed had received requests from male employees to take up SPL.

Meanwhile, HMRC figures revealed just 3,000 parents took SPL during the first three months of 2016, compared with 155,000 mothers who took maternity leave and 52,000 fathers who took paternity leave during an equivalent three month period during tax year 2013-14. The figures were obtained under a freedom of information request submitted by law firm EMW. 

SPL was designed to enable eligible mothers, fathers, partners and adopters to share statutory leave and pay after their child is born or adopted. Eligible workers can choose how they allocate SPL between them, and whether they wish to take the leave separately or simultaneously.

In its 2017 general election manifesto, the Conservative Party has promised to take steps to encourage more parents to use SPL. It has also pledged to introduce 30 hours of free childcare for working parents of three and four-year-olds who would otherwise struggle to afford it.

The Labour Party, meanwhile, has promised to extend paid paternity leave to four weeks and to increase paternity pay, and the Liberal Democrats have pledged to make paternity and SPL a right from day one of employment, and encourage more organisations to offer flexible working.

The Milners research did not track how many employees surveyed were new parents, and therefore eligible for SPL. 

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy could not be reached for comment on the figures.

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Comments (2)
  • The Women's Equality Party has fully-costed policies to change this, by bringing in three month's use-it-or-lose-it leave for working fathers paid at 90% of normal salary, and universal free nursery care for children aged 9 months to five years. We challenged all the other parties to steal our nickable policies but none of the old parties has risen to the challenge. Allowing working parents of all genders the choice to participate in the labour market will generate £150 billion in GDP each year, particularly in tax income and reduced benefit payments.

  • This is the 'benefit' no one wants - or wanted -  as evidenced by lack of take up. A straw poll of most men in any industry will reveal many don't in reality want to take the two weeks off at the start as they are only in the way, nor to stay at home attempting to look after a newborn baby. A straw poll of most women in any industry will reveal they don't want the men under their feet while they attempt to bond with the new baby in the first couple of weeks and very few would wish to leave their small baby with their partner. Even paying full salary would not be an encouragement in many families. It's a fact of life there is a real difference between men and women no matter how much pressure is heaped upon them to attempt to change this.