Analysis

By s1jobs

 

It’s six years on from the introduction of shared parental leave (SPL) in the UK, yet uptake of what was meant to be progressive game-changing legislation to level out gender disparities remains stuck in low single-digit percentages.

The paucity of those using SPL is such that campaigners, trade unionists and economists have united in calls to scrap what has been described as a “deeply flawed and chronically failing policy”. Among those seeking a complete overhaul are Maternity Action, the Fawcett Society, the Trades Union Congress (TUC), the Royal College of Midwives and the National Childbirth Trust (NCT).

They and others are upping pressure on ministers to introduce a fairer “use it or lose it” policy of non-transferable paid leave for both parents in the upcoming Employment Bill. Similar policies in countries such as Sweden and Iceland have seen men’s uptake in the region of 90 per cent, versus current estimates of between 2% and 8% for SPL in the UK.

HeraldScotland:

At the time of its launch, the TUC warned that roughly 40% of fathers would not be eligible for SPL because those who are agency workers, on zero-hours contracts or self-employed cannot make a claim.

Even for those who can, SPL is often simply not an affordable option. Under the current scheme, mothers can share up 50 weeks of leave with their partner. But unless the father’s employer offers enhanced benefits, the most he can usually get is two weeks of pay at £148.68 per week – about half of the living wage.

The intent of SPL was to transform gender equality by making it easier for fathers to take on their share of the parenting load from the outset. Some have suggested the lack of engagement is because men aren’t interested in taking paternity leave, an assertion flatly denied by the Fawcett Society, whose research has found that nearly 70% of fathers believe men should be given longer and better-paid time off.

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An overhaul could go a long way towards rebalancing gender inequalities, such as the pay gap, that still plague working women. Sharing childcare equally from the get-go would make it easier for new mothers to return to work earlier, and avoid them being locked out of promotions and pay increases.

With a delayed report on parental leave now due “later this year”, it remains to be seen whether the government will pay heed. In the meantime, organisations should look at their own policies, particularly in light of the widespread shift towards more flexible working arrangements.

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