Half of employers support extending statutory paternity leave and pay, research shows

But experts say more needs to be done and are calling on businesses to enhance the length, pay and flexibility of parental leave

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Almost half of organisations support extending paternity leave and pay to help parents balance out-of-work responsibilities and get better financial support, new CIPD research has revealed.

The survey found that 46 per cent of employers supported extending statutory paternity/partner leave and pay, with 33 per cent saying it should be extended to four weeks and 29 per cent feeling it should be extended to six weeks or more.

Currently, 49 per cent of organisations’ parental leave and pay policies are in line with current statutory leave entitlements, which allow for one or two consecutive weeks’ leave if the person has been employed for at least 26 weeks, paid at £156.66 or 90 per cent of earnings per week, whichever is lower.

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As a result, the CIPD is urging the government to extend statutory paternity/partner leave to six weeks either close to or at the full rate of pay.

Claire McCartney, senior policy adviser at the CIPD, said this would have benefits for individuals, families and employers: “Extended paternity/partner leave can have emotional benefits for parents and children, as well as improving the gender pay gap, as it enables a more equal split of time out of work to care for children.”

Nicki Pritchard, managing partner at executive search firm Anderson Quigley, added that companies could boost their own operations and standing if they decided to take initiative in this space. “Employers should see their employee policies not only as a tool to answer their staff’s unique needs and priorities, but also as a reflection of the company’s broader culture and values,” she said.

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“If a business truly cares about gender equality in the workforce and in childcare, then flexible working and enhanced equal parental leave must be prioritised.”

However, as it stands the parental leave landscape isn’t equal: the CIPD’s survey highlighted that the facility for shared parental leave was not being used, with 85 per cent of employers surveyed revealing that no new parents had taken up shared parental leave in the last two years.

Shared parental leave was introduced in 2015 as a way to give parents greater flexibility in how they care for their child. Idris Arshad, people and inclusion partner at St Christopher’s Hospice, said this should be considered as an approach to all parental leave options. “We need to ask why parental leave is set up in one block. I know some organisations are taking an alternate approach to bank holidays [where you can choose which days you take] and I think some parents might benefit from taking three days here or four days there,” he explained.

But Arshad isn’t optimistic of any change regarding approaches to parental and shared parental leave happening without government intervention, as a result of pay gaps between parents, an uncertain economic outlook and it not being considered an agenda-topping issue. He added: “Because of the time we're in at the moment, it is going to be more difficult for organisations to commit to something like [increasing length of parental leave and pay] if it's not statutory.”

Similarly, Anna Whitehouse, flexible working campaigner and founder of Mother Pukka, said that with government-funded parental leave, as it stands, often resulting in a pay cut, paternity leave take-up is at a low point.

She said organisations needed to understand the impact this can have on core HR metrics. “As we wade head first into the cost of living crisis this is only going to get worse,” she said. “If we extend funded parental leave then we will take greater strides towards parental equality, but to succeed we need to tackle negative stigmas about dads having time away from work.

“We also need to embrace and encourage shared parental leave and expect parents to have new flexible working needs as they transition to keeping tiny humans alive and working and to reward parental leave by making sure that both dads and mums can afford to take time off at all.”

Whitehouse’s call for increased flexibility for parents is aligned with the CIPD’s calls to make flexible working requests a day one right, as well as for the government to provide affordable childcare from the end of maternity leave. As it stands, parents in England are eligible for up to 30 hours’ free childcare per week if their child is aged three or four years old.