A report says Shared Parental Leave has fallen by 17% in the last year, but is that just a temporary Covid blip?
Shared Parental Leave was in the news this week as a look at recent figures by law firm EMW showed a 17% fall in its use in 2020/21 – the first since it was launched in 2016. The news was greeted with calls for employers to enhance pay, given pay is thought to be one of the main barriers to uptake.
The SPL scheme allows eligible parents to share up to 50 weeks of leave between them after their baby is born, with 37 weeks being paid at the statutory rate of £151.20 per week.
Why has there been such a big fall in uptake of SPL in the last year? Well, as for most things, the pandemic has taken its toll. Financial strains on families have made it harder to take time off on what is half the minimum wage for full-time employees. Furlough has meant many dads have been able to be around for their children. Working from home has also made it possible for dads to be there, even if they have been busy. Work challenges has meant many workers, particularly frontline ones, have made taking leave harder. Sometimes it has been a combination of several of these factors.
2020/21 has not been a normal year and all the reports coming out about rises and falls of this and that have to be understood in that light.
Is it just a temporary blip then? Well, the scheme has suffered from low take-up rates prior to last year. There are many concerns about it in addition to pay. They include the fact that mums have to agree to share their leave with dads. Critics argue that the scheme is too complicated, underpaid and that it should include a ringfenced period of leave just for dads. Several employers have acted to enhance their parental pay for dads or have brought in equal parental pay schemes. Insurance firm Aviva is one of them and it has seen a big increase in dads taking leave as a result.
Moreover, another possible reason for the fall in uptake this past year is that employers have not promoted SPL so much at a time when they have been focusing more on urgent wellbeing and other issues. Yet parental leave is a key factor in entrenching shared parenting from the offset and in attracting and retaining staff. In an era of skills shortages and concerns about gender pay gaps, it is important that it doesn’t get left by the wayside and that efforts to promote SPL or, better, to reform it in favour of equal parental leave do not get forgotten.