The low take-up of Shared Parental Leave (SPL) and the lack of affordable childcare options for parents of children under three are major problems that need to be addressed to support working parents more effectively, according to a new report from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.
The survey of over 1,000 HR professionals found that, on average, just 5% of new fathers and 8% of new mothers have opted for SPL since its introduction in April 2015. Just one organisation in five said they had received requests from male employees to take up SPL since April 2015. And in two-thirds of organisations with mothers eligible for SPL, none have opted in.
The survey also suggests that the lack of free childcare for 0-2 year-olds could be having a negative impact on women returning to work after maternity leave. Two-thirds of respondents agreed that the participation rate of women with young children at work would improve to a large (30%) or some extent (38%) if the same level of free childcare available for three- and four-year-olds was available for children up to two years of age.
Rachel Suff, Employment Relations Adviser at the CIPD, said: “Shared Parental Leave was a milestone for gender equality when it was introduced last year. The intentions were right, and on paper it gives new parents much more choice and flexibility about taking leave to look after a new baby, particularly if the mother is the higher earner and if dads want to play a bigger role in their child’s early life. However, the complexity of the rules and the financial gap between statutory maternity pay and statutory shared parental pay in the early weeks are clearly outweighing these positives in reality for many. Government needs to look at what steps can be taken to ensure SPL can bring a step change on the ground in the UK.
“Encouraging pledges on childcare were made during the last general election but the approach to date, however well-intentioned, has been to introduce ad hoc initiatives without considering their longer-term impact. For example, the more time people spend out of the labour market, the harder it is for them to re-enter it, and the continued lack of provision for 0-2 year-olds means that an unintended consequence of this policy is that the choice to return to work just isn’t there for some new parents. At a time of greater economic and labour market uncertainty, we need a national childcare strategy developed by Government in collaboration with employers, so that parents with younger children have better opportunities to return to work after having a baby.”
The survey also found that just 30% of respondents said their organisation proactively promotes flexible working options to employees who have caring responsibilities and only 11% say they have a childcare policy covering the range of support available to working parents.
The survey also found divided opinions on extending Shared Parental Leave and pay to grandparents and that less than a third of employers are aware of the Government’s new Tax-Free Childcare scheme, even though it will be introduced in early 2017.