UK Shared Parental Leave: One Year Later

A scheme for sharing parental leave and pay following the birth or adoption of a child was introduced in England and Wales in April 2015.

It allows parents to share between them up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of statutory pay during the first year of their child’s birth or adoption (subject to various eligibility criteria). Parents can take the leave at the same time, or independently of each other, and in one block or several small blocks.

Shared Parental Leave (“SPL”) offers great potential for promoting gender equality in the workplace and challenging gender stereotypes regarding childcare responsibilities.

However, one year after its introduction, a survey by My Family Care suggests that the use of SPL is low. The study surveyed 200 employers and over 1000 parents (similar numbers of men and women), and found that 4 out of 10 employers had not seen a single male employee take advantage of SPL so far. Only 1 out of 20 employers reported more than a 1% use of SPL by all male employees (although, due to the eligibility criteria, not all male employees would have been eligible for SPL). On a more positive note, out of those individual respondents who had a baby or adopted a child during the last year, 1 in 3 men and 1 in 5 women had utilized SPL.

The survey results show that, in principle, men are as interested as women in taking SPL. Around 30% of the men and women surveyed who already had children or who were looking to have children in the future said it was “very likely” that they would take SPL. As to whether it is in fact taken, a number of key factors come into play:

  • Financial affordability: Over 80% of the men and women surveyed “strongly agree” or “agree” that a decision to take SPL would depend on their finances and employer enhancement of shared parental pay. Over half of the employers surveyed enhance shared parental pay, generally by making enhanced shared parental pay the same as their enhanced maternity pay.
  • Lack of willingness to share: 55% of the women surveyed “strongly agree” or “agree” that they don’t want to share their leave, while 60% of the men surveyed “strongly agree” or “agree” that their partner would prefer to take all the leave themselves.
  • Negative impact: 57% of the women surveyed “strongly agree” or “agree” that their partner taking SPL would negatively impact their partner’s career, while 50% of men surveyed “strongly agree” or “agree” that taking SPL is perceived negatively at work.

As for the future, the views of the respondents surveyed were split. Roughly half of the respondents suggested that SPL will become “more of a well-used and “normal” option over time,” while the other half believe that “usage of SPL will remain low, a minority choice”. Only time will tell.

Julie Pickworth is an international counsel in Debevoise’s London office.

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