Fewer than 9,000 new parents took shared parental leave (SPL) last year, research published today has found, compared with hundreds of thousands who took standard maternity or paternity leave.
SPL, which was introduced in April 2015, allows new parents to share up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of statutory pay between them.
However, figures published by law firm EMW found that, while 661,000 mothers and 221,000 fathers took maternity and paternity leave in the year to March 2017, only 8,700 parents took SPL.
“Many new parents are unclear about how the system will work for their families and careers,” warned Jon Taylor, principal at EMW. “Fathers in particular could be concerned about coming across as less committed to their job if they ask for greater flexibility, deterring them from looking into it.”
Meanwhile, Rachel Suff, employee relations adviser at the CIPD, said HR should be working to support new parents and had a responsibility to make them aware of their statutory rights. "One factor that could explain the low take-up rates of maternity, paternity and shared parental leave is employees' general lack of awareness of the family-friendly rights they are entitled to at work,” she said. “Employers – and HR – have a responsibility to ensure that working parents know which statutory rights they can take advantage of when they have a baby. These should form the bedrock of any organisation's framework to support working parents and retain their valuable skills and talent."
Separate figures obtained by People Management in June revealed that fewer than 7,500 men had taken SPL in the past year, with experts suggesting that they had been deterred by the ‘complexity’ of the rules. Meanwhile, CIPD data from December 2016 found that just 5 per cent of new fathers had opted to take SPL.
“Employers must take a proactive approach towards leave for new parents – not only for mothers, but fathers too,” Taylor said. “If an employer is seen as sympathetic to the needs of new parents, they are more likely to enjoy retention of staff.”
EMW believes its figures show that just 1 per cent of parents eligible for SPL actually took it. However, a spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said its own figures suggested take-up was closer to 3 per cent.
The spokesperson said: “SPL helps mothers who want to return to work early share childcare responsibilities with the father or their partner. The policy was only introduced in 2015 and we cannot expect to see a culture change overnight, but clearly we want more families to take advantage of the extra flexibility this scheme provides. That is why over the coming months we will be taking action to increase the number of families taking advantage of SPL.”
Office for National Statistics figures revealed that there were 696,271 live births in the UK in 2016. However, not all new parents will have been eligible for SPL, often because they are unemployed or had not been with their employer for long enough to qualify at the time their child was born.