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 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.
At the time SPL was lorded 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. This latest survey, like the previous ones before it, suggests that there is either little appetite for it or little knowledge about it – or maybe even both.
Other possible reasons could include working dads fearing discrimination, and that their career prospects may suffer if they pursue SPL, the main breadwinner in the family saying it is simply not an affordable option, employers’ failure to subsidise SPL in the same way as maternity leave, and some women’s unwillingness to ‘let go’ of their maternity leave.
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.
Interestingly, it seems the Government is aware of this lack of SPL take up - in its general election manifesto, the Tories have 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.
Labour, meanwhile, has promised to extend paid paternity leave to four weeks and to increase paternity pay, and the Lib Dems have pledged to make paternity and SPL a right from day one of employment, and encourage more organisations to offer flexible working.
A summary of the 3 main political party manifesto employment law proposals can be seen here