Why have only 1% of men taken up Shared Parental Leave?

It was heralded as a big step forward in flexible working, but SPL hasn't taken off yet.

by Rebecca Smith
Last Updated: 05 May 2016

It's now a year since Shared Parental Leave (SPL) was introduced but it doesn't seem to have had much impact on the UK’s working parents - yet.

According to research by My Family Care and the Women’s Business Council, surveying 200 firms and over 1,000 parents, a measly 1% of men have taken up the opportunity to share their partner’s parental leave.

There are a couple of issues at play here. Firstly, it’s that SPL in its current form doesn’t appear to be working. Analysis from the government acknowledged this, predicting that only 2-8% of fathers would have access to the entitlement. The financial implications are a big challenge - 80% of both men and women said a decision to share leave would be dependent on their finances and how much their employer tops up parental leave pay. 

Depending on respective salaries it may not be possible for one parent to take the drop in pay to split leave. This ties into discussion surrounding the gender pay gap – on average men earn more and there's often going to be a greater hit for them than the mother taking the entirety of maternity leave. Another problem which should be easier to tackle is lack of awareness – employers should be encouraged to be more proactive in making staff aware shared leave is an option.

It's also important to acknowledge that people have differing circumstances and views. Not all mothers and fathers will want to split leave, for a range of reasons. Unwillingness from women to share maternity leave isn’t an issue if it’s a mutual agreement fitting their situations (55% of mothers said they wouldn’t want to, but 48% said they’d like shorter time off for career purposes). But it becomes an issue when SPL isn’t even known about as an option, or financial restrictions stop parents from taking it.

Disproportionate childcare has been an ongoing problem in holding some women back from progressing at work, perpetuating the gender pay gap and perceptions around whose responsibility it is to take leave. This also means men often lose out and don’t get to spend as much time with their children as they’d like. A cultural shift still needs to occur to get away from the general perception that it's a woman's 'duty' to stay at home with the children.

But it’s not as if men don’t want to take leave. Some 87% of men said they would like to take longer off to be fully involved in parenting and 63% of those who have young children and are considering having more said it was likely they’d choose to take up shared leave in the future.

Of course it’s still early days for SPL and the fact it’s being talked about at all is a step forward in normalising it as an option. But the law in its current form is proving restrictive and it’ll likely need a rework to improve SPL’s prospects. Offering both mother and father the same entitlement to parental leave – at a rate that means families can actually take it, would be a more effective way of encouraging take-up in the future.

Shared Parental Leave:

  • Came into effect from April 2015 enabling British couples to divide almost all the traditional maternity leave entitlement between them. Couples adopting can also take it. Eligibility can be checked on the governnment website.
  • Parents can take nearly a year off. Aside from the fortnight period new mothers must take off after giving birth, the full 12 months is then available to split between the parents however suits them
  • It's a similar rate to statutory maternity pay at £139.58 a week, or 90% of an employee's average weekly earnings (whichever is lower), for 37 weeks. Though employers can always offer more.

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