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Guest post: "Shared Parental Leave isn’t working. At all."(188 Posts)
Years after the introduction of paid parental leave, the uptake among fathers is very low. Ros Bragg, director of Maternity Action, argues that Shared Parental Leave is inherently flawed and outlines Maternity Action's suggestion of a 'use it or lose it' model that would support fathers and second parents to take leave and lead to more equal parenting.
"It’s been six years since the policy was introduced, and the most recent data shows that take-up amongst eligible fathers is only around 3-4%. That’s far short of the 25% that the government had hoped for by now, and pretty conclusive evidence that Shared Parental Leave (SPL) isn’t fit for purpose.
But significantly, it’s not failing due to any lack of demand on the part of parents: there is ample evidence that fathers would like more time off work after the birth of a child.
Our advice lines regularly take calls from exasperated parents who desperately want to try and use the scheme, but are held back by its sheer complexity.
These are parents like Amy and John. They contacted Maternity Action after their request to take shared leave and pay at the same time was turned down, even though it is allowed under the policy. John’s employer was adamant that to pay both parents would be fraud – and by the time the query was raised with HMRC, Amy was already on maternity leave and John had to take unpaid leave.
Instead of enjoying those first few weeks and months with the baby together, both Amy and John were hugely stressed about whether or not they were going to get paid, and the situation put a huge strain on John’s relationship with his employer.
This is typical of the problems with Shared Parental Leave – parents who do want to take it are faced with a system with inherent design flaws and complexity, and a ludicrously low rate of pay: just £152 per week, equivalent to less than half of the national minimum wage.
‘Mothers need time to recover from birth’
Even the name is faulty: shared parental leave is really ‘transferable maternity leave’, as the scheme created no additional parental leave entitlement for fathers, but simply ‘enabled’ mothers to give away all but two weeks of their leave.
This means that, if a mother (not unreasonably) wants to use most or all of her maternity leave entitlement, there is little or no SPL available to the father. And the designers of the scheme knew that the average length of statutory maternity leave taken by mothers is 39 weeks – that is, the full entitlement of paid leave. And 45% of new mothers take more than 39 weeks.
This is hardly surprising, as – contrary to the impression often given by ministers – the duration of paid leave available to new mothers in the UK is short by international standards. And new mothers are not just ‘caring for’ or ‘bonding with’ their baby. They are recovering from the often severe physical and mental impacts of pregnancy and birth. Plus, they may be breastfeeding.
‘Use it or lose it’
So what’s the solution? Well, the good news is that six years’ experience of SPL confirms the lessons we could and should have learnt from parental leave policies in other countries. In short, the most successful approaches – such as those in Sweden, Iceland, Norway and Finland – are based on individual, non-transferable (‘use it or lose it’) rights to leave for each parent, and on that leave being moderately well paid.
We at Maternity Action suggest that Shared Parental Leave is scrapped altogether, and replaced with new rights to six months of paid maternity leave reserved for the mother, and six months of paid parental leave for each parent.
This would give mothers a combined paid leave entitlement of up to 52 weeks – 13 weeks more than now. And it would give fathers and other second parents a total paid leave entitlement of up to 28 weeks – that is, 26 weeks more than now.
This would mean that there is no question of the mother ‘giving up’ her recovery time after childbirth, and would mean that both parents had a right to individual paid leave to bond and care for their child.
The ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ approach would incentivise fathers and second parents to take leave when previously they would not have considered it, because of financial or other constraints.
Achieving more equal parenting is a process that will take many years and will require, in addition to more equitable rights to better paid maternity and parental leave, robust governmental action to increase the supply of affordable childcare, and a major effort by political and business leaders to drive a change in parenting culture in the workplace.
But we need to make a start. And the time to do so is now.
You can support us by writing to your local MP - just click on this link, enter your postcode, and we do the rest.
You can follow Maternity Action on twitter @MaternityAction and Ros Bragg @rosbragg.
Hear hear. We should've always gone with a use-or-lose-it approach, instead of syphoning off maternity leave to fathers. The low uptake should surprise no-one.
Can we also pick up on employers offering enhanced maternity pay but only statutory parental pay? I work for the same employer as my husband on almost the same pay but if we both take leave we’ll be severely out of pocket as only the maternity pay is enhanced.
Is there really a big demand for it from men? We actually did use the scheme and DH pretty much begged to return to work.
I know someone who has taken shared parental leave but she is a relationship with another woman rather than a Dad. I think use it or lose like a good idea.
I fear there is no appetite in the Govt for 'helping' mothers, or allowing fathers to spent time with their newborns.
I agree wholeheartedly with Maternity Action on this, it is something I have hoped to see brought in ever since the advent of the shared leave approach. I will be happy to support them in this initiative. My partner would definitely have taken additional paternity leave if it had been available to him, without needing me to give up my leave to facilitate it.
Mothers need time to recover from birth’
I was concerned recently to hear an attitude of maternity leave as being a holiday.
A friend who works a vet practice full time and who's husband went part time and so both took shared leave described someone she knew where both parents went travelling for 6 months doing maternity leave. And wonderful that option is.
Which is fine and I'm sure it was right for them, and both parents being full time for 6 months will have been wonderful but framing it as a holiday distracts from the whole point of maternity leave.
It can take some women up to two years or more to fully recover physically from pregnancy or childbirth. And the nights.
Shorter maternity leaves make it harder for women to continue to breastfeed, although very supportive partners and a support network absolutely can help this. (My vet friend fed long term and another hcp I know of also did despite returning to work under a year.)
Re holiday attitude; Partners of mums on maternity leave often refer to their partners as "being off." Maternity leave is probably one of the most physically gruelling thing you can do!
In the ideal world a partner of the mother would be able to take more parental leave than they currently can.
It takes longer than 2 weeks to recover from a c section for a start.
Agreed. We're going to use it but it'll be a massive faff. I wanted to use KIT and SPLIT days to ease the transition but this isnt allowed so one of us will have to take annual leave.
It only works if you're bottle feeding as well unless both of us are off at the same time.
My son, who works for a large global company, got 6 months paternity leave when his daughter was born.
I have a man (employee) on shared maternity leave at the moment. He has some SN and is very much the secondary earner (plus we have enhanced pay). It's a needs must situation for them and it's great that it's available, but they'd still both prefer mum was at home for the full year.
Anecdotally this is repeated among my friends, they're well aware they could have shared and in some cases it would have been financially beneficial to do so, but the women, as much as if not more than the men, don't want to.
We tried to use shared parental leave but my husband's employer was very awkward about it. Wanted to know what it was for and said the reason (looking after our baby while I worked abroad) wasn't good enough, also said that he couldn't take it when he wanted but had to wait 2 months due to the needs of the business. To be honest it was more hassle than it was worth.
We asked about shared parental leave when DC2 was born but as a civil servant my maternity was enhanced to full pay and my husband, who works in private industry on twice my salary, would have only got statutory rate so it wasn't feasible for us.
Have sent email. Thank you for making it so simple.
I agree. The shared parental leave scheme is a gimmick - it’s robbing Peter to pay Paul. My husband and I considered it but we discounted it as a) we both wanted our son to be breastfed as long as possible and b) I really did need the maximum amount of time available to recover from pregnancy, a difficult birth and the initial few months.
Pus there is the view that if you so SPL the woman gets the shitty end of the stick - does the birth and fist [x[ months when its harder, and then the dad swans in and gets the more fun bit when everything is more settled.
SPL is not fit for use and individual entitlement on 'use it or loose it' is a much better proposal.
We talked about it, but I just didn't want to lose that time with my babies. It's such a precious time.
I was heartbroken both times at having to go back to work. I would have been so resentful of my partner being off while I was at work.
Is there really a big demand for it from men? We actually did use the scheme and DH pretty much begged to return to work.
We were lucky. Our first child was born in feb last year. As such my husband went back to work for one week before furlough started. which basically gave him a whole bunch of time with our son. He loved it, baby loved it and i loved it.
That early bond was wonderful and i would love that too should i have more kids.
Defo needs to be extra entitlement for fathers. We did this the first time and I hadn’t prepared myself for the fact that I wasn’t recovered from birth and not ready to go back after the 9 months I took off. We didn’t use it the second time round as I knew I’d need the full year.
Also like @CrumpetsForAll my employer pays some enhanced maternity leave but no enhanced paternity leave. Which is madness.
I was encouraged to take SPL by work, and I have several colleagues who have used SPL successfully - including some who EBF or whose partner did, so it doesn't necessarily get in the way of BFing, especially if it's after the 6-7 month point. After all US women are often back at work within weeks and still BF.
What stopped us using SPL was the huge discrepancy in pay. My work offers an enhanced package to anyone on maternity or SPL, DH's offers the statutory minimum. It cost us £1000 in lost earnings just for him to take two weeks' paternity leave.
I would have much preferred to split the year between us as I was keen to get back to work and bored out of my mind on maternity leave but it just wasn't affordable.
I took SPL and in my case it made financial sense as even though I'm the higher earner I only got statutory maternity pay, there as my DP got his full pay for 4 months. (Unlike a PP my DP loved his time with our child.)
Even if the government does give partners their own specific parental leave many won't take it due to the fact it doesn't make economic sense for the family.
Also there are partners who are excluded completely from even taking the 2 weeks paternity leave as they are self-employed.
The government comes out with ideas and policies for children aged 0-5 but doesn't properly fund them which means they are useless for the majority of families.
Great post. There needs to be a greater societal acceptance for men to take parental leave as well. Too many employers don’t support it and discriminate against men who want to or express interest in using it. The couple described in the guest post is probably a very common occurrence.
a ludicrously low rate of pay: just £152 per week
This is the issue right here. We simply couldn’t afford to lose over 80% of my husband’s salary. He would drop from £900 to £150 per week. If he was entitled to six weeks at 90% salary (as mothers are) then he would have taken that time off. Until that happens the take-up will continue to be abysmal.
We used it, as I am the higher earner and wanted to get back to work after 16 weeks. My DH company made it very hard for him, cocked up his pay and have made his life a misery since he went back and he will be leaving soon. My only other experience was a colleague who took SPL and then, much like many of the women who took maternity leave like me, found he was sidelined for the best projects because of a perception he wasn't 'committed' to the job. We both left that company within a year. So not really an incentive for men to take SPL if my experience is anything to go by and that's without the financial considerations which mean it's not even workable for a lot of people.