Shared Parental Leave: the debate continues

Shared parenting

 

Shared Parental Leave has only been around for just over a year, but the take-up so far has been low. A survey by My Family Care and the Women’s Business Council in April, one year after it was introduced, showed only a 1% take-up.

Workingmums.co.uk has been tracking its progress and looking what the obstacles might be to its success. In 2014, just before it came in, our annual survey showed that 44% of mums would consider sharing their leave with their partner after their baby was born.

According to statistics published today from our 2016 annual survey, this has dropped to 36%. The most popular reason given for not taking SPL [given by 47%] was because it wouldn’t make financial sense to do so. SPL is paid at the statutory rate of £139.58 a week. However, a growing number of employers are enhancing SPL to make it easier for parents to take it. Moreover, a recent court case showed that employers who only enhance maternity leave and do not do so for SPL risk a claim of discrimination. This could lead to more employers choosing to enhance both or could result in employers opting to scrap enhanced maternity leave, although there were a particular set of circumstances in the successful court case.

Willingness to share

Nevertheless,  in our survey, 62% of mums said enhancing Shared Parental Leave would not make a difference to whether they took it. Another issue is around how much willingness there is to share the leave equally. Some 83% of mums said they would not split their leave evenly with their partner. As the legislation is currently phrased, it is the mum who chooses whether to share her leave. Critics say this means that the leave is not really shared since it is up to the mother to allow her partner to have it. They say this makes SPL something that mothers feel they are giving up rather than a positive reflection of equal parenting. They argue instead for dads to be granted more paternity leave on a ‘use it or lose it’ basis and says this proven successful in Sweden.

The aim of Shared Parental Leave was to give parents the option to establish shared responsibility for childcare from the first year on the basis that greater equality at home is linked to greater equality in the workplace, but those benefits will take a while to filter through. Moreover, there are other reasons in addition to maternity leave and the primary carer role that hold women back in workplace. What the research does suggest is that many women may be unwilling to give up the primary carer role altogether. It would be interesting to hear what dads think.

It’s a sensitive area and one which each family has to decide for itself. There are all sorts of factors that come into play, from family expectations, peer pressure, birth experience and so forth. What SPL does do, though, is give parents more options.

Women as primary carers

One thing that is clear from our annual survey is that the norm is still very much for women to take the primary carer role. While 55% of mums are looking to work part time, just 17% have a partner who works flexibly in any form and only 5% have partners working part time, a figure that has remained almost constant over the last three years. Women also say only 21% of their partners share housework equally with them, while just 3% say their partner does more housework than them.

The impact of having children on the gender pay gap is also clear. Over half [53%] of women earn less pro rata than before they had children, compared to 21% who earned more. The number of women who are the main breadwinner in their family stands at 17% while 22% of respondents are single parents.

The survey also showed that:

– 59% of women feel like they have to work harder than men to prove themselves in the workplace to overcome unconscious bias.

– women who have taken a career gap to raise their children often struggle to get back to work with just 13% finding a job in their field quite easily

– a quarter of returners say they found a job in their field, but at a lower level than previously

– nearly a third [31%] of returners couldn’t find a job in their field.

If we at least have more open conversations between mums, dads and employers about the impact of parenting on work and vice versa then there is more chance that we will come to better decisions in the long run.





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