Shared Parental Leave one year on: 85% think that families cannot afford it


photo credit: Swaddled in Loving Kisses via photopin (license)

On the first anniversary of Shared Parental Leave (SPL), totaljobs has conducted a fascinating survey highlighting what UK employees feel about the legislation…and the results are not as optimistic as one might have hoped.

The key takeaways from the report are….

  • 85% of employees think that families cannot afford SPL.
  • 81% fear the impact of taking SPL on their careers.

Although 80% believe that SPL will strengthen the role of fathers in the family, 74% have received no guidance on SPL from their HR departments and 67% of women are not clear about or don’t know what SPL is.

Despite the small uptake of the policy, 75% of respondents think that SPL will reduce gender stereotypes about parenthood and 66% believe it will decrease inequality in the workplace, with more men taking time off and women returning to work more quickly.

Sam Smethers, Chief Executive of women’s rights and equality organisation the Fawcett Society said: “What this survey shows very clearly is that current arrangements for Shared Parental Leave will not fundamentally change entrenched gender roles around who does the caring. We need game changer and we think a dedicated period of leave for dads paid close to replacement income rate is the way to go, leading to equalised leave entitlements over time.

Adrienne Burgess, Joint CEO and Head of Research at the Fatherhood Institute shared her insights: “The UK system of Shared Parental Leave has restricted eligibility, meaning that no more than 30% of mothers and fathers can use it. This, plus the fact that it is paid at such a low rate (£27.60 per day) and that most parents don’t know about it, means that uptake will be very low. 

The UK needs the kind of parental leave system common in the rest of Europe, which widens eligibility to all employed parents and pays 90% wage replacement, with a cap for high earners. Once that is in place, leave taking will become normative (as taking paternity leave is now) and fathers and mothers will be less worried about the impact on their careers.

So is Shared Parental Leave just lip service then? What is the best workable solution then?

Esther Radnor, Founding Director at Mum Plus Business, believes the key might be in flexiwork: “We believe that anything that gives families flexibility as to when and where they work is positive. Therefore we believe that shared parental leave has been a good step forward in breaking down gender inequality, offering women and men the chance to return to work when they feel it is the right time for them.

“For some mothers, an extended career break is what they want and need, while others might want to return to work sooner. Any initiative that offers families more choices and can help parents develop themselves and their careers is something that we support.”

Shared Parental Leave infographic

To view the full report see here.

What do you think about Shared Parental Leave? Have you or someone you know taken Shared Parental Leave, or perhaps you are considering it? Leave a comment and let me know your thoughts.

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  1. We were one of the first families entitled to use SPL. We really wanted to – we so badly wanted both of us to be at home for the first couple of months, at least – but we absolutely couldn’t afford to. We couldn’t have two of us on SMP/SPP; we also couldn’t afford to live on my salary so there was no option for my partner to take time off instead of me. And neither of us received any sort of information from our employers, despite my partner working for a very large company with a decent sized HR department (in fact, we recently checked and they STILL don’t mention it in any of their staff guidance). It was really frustrating for us – SPL is definitely a step in the right direction but, as long as men tend to earn more than women, I don’t see the uptake being anywhere near as good as it could be.

  2. Nice post. Although SPL has been widely portrayed in the media this week as having had a disappointing start, I think there is some room for optimism.

    For a start, both the totaljobs and My Family Care surveys suggest that many families like the idea of sharing leave and they understand the benefits of doing so. That is encouraging to see as it puts paid to the idea that dads don’t want to do childcare or are incapable of it, and that mums don’t want to share their maternity leave.

    It is disappointing that many people are still unaware of SPL or have received little information from their HR departments about it. But many of the respondents will be people without children: I doubt I could have told you much about maternity and paternity leave policies before I had children! It will improve over time, especially as more people take advantage of it.

    It’s not surprising that affordability is cited as the main concern though. Most employers have chosen not to make their enhanced maternity leave benefits available to men on shared parental leave. Coupled with the fact that men, on the whole, earn more than women due to the gender pay gap, most families would be sacrificing a considerable amount of income if the dad were to take the leave instead of the mum. As much as dads might want to do it, few people will want to risk their house for it.

    Sam Smethers and Adrienne Burgess are right. Although SPL is a huge improvement on what we had before, we need more change if we’re to get the benefits from it.
    Sam Jackson recently posted…The home truths of staying at homeMy Profile

  3. My husband and I shared my maternity leave the first time with our little girl I had 24 weeks maternity leave and he took the remaining 15 weeks. Granted I am the larger earner and I am in a HR role so really had a good handle on the policy. He absolutely loved the time he had with our little girl and their bond is fantastic.

    We are now 9 weeks away from him taking shared parental leave a second time round with our son. I am so happy he can have this opportunity. It is hard to have to go back to work so soon but knowing I am leaving my babies with their dad made it a much easier transition for me.

    It was interesting how other females reacted to him being at baby classes and weigh in at the children’s centre! Some of my friends earn more than their husbands and have themselves shared their leave too!! It isn’t for everyone and isn’t manageable financially for everyone but I do agree that it is a lack of education as opposed to affordability for all. I have also heard some of my mummy friends say I have waited for this time off my whole pregnancy I am not giving up a year off!

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