Parents put off shared leave by ‘complexity’ of rules

29 Jun 2017 By Hayley Kirton

Fewer than 7,500 men may have taken advantage of SPL last year, new figures suggest

Just over 7,000 men took shared parental leave (SPL) last year, figures obtained by People Management suggest, the latest evidence that the ‘milestone’ policy has failed to curry favour among parents.

Figures from HMRC, which were released under a freedom of information request submitted by People Management, revealed that 7,100 men received shared parental pay in the 2016-17 tax year.

Despite this, men do appear to be taking some time off to care for their newborn children. In 2016-17, 221,000 men received statutory paternity pay, a modest increase of 5.7 per cent compared with 209,000 in 2013-14.

SPL was introduced in April 2015 and allows new parents to split up to 52 weeks of leave between them to care for their child. The HMRC figures do not track men who took a period of SPL without receiving pay.

“SPL was a milestone for gender equality when it was introduced,” said Rachel Suff, employee relations adviser at the CIPD. “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 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.”

Previous studies have also suggested an extremely low take-up of SPL. CIPD research published last December found that just 5 per cent of fathers and 8 per cent of mothers had taken SPL, while just a fifth (21 per cent) of employers had received requests for SPL.

Meanwhile, an earlier freedom of information request submitted by law firm EMW revealed that just 3,000 parents took SPL in the first three months of 2016, compared with 155,000 mothers who took maternity leave and 52,000 fathers who took paternity leave during an equivalent three-month period during 2013-14.

In its 2017 general election manifesto, the Conservative Party promised to take steps to encourage more parents to use SPL. There was no mention of how this would be achieved in last week’s Queen’s speech, although the Queen did say the government would “make further progress to tackle the gender pay gap and discrimination against people on the basis of their… gender”.

Meanwhile, Margot James, junior minister in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), recently wrote to MP Jo Swinson to say the government will be evaluating SPL in 2018, which would likely include commissioning a survey to measure take-up so far. Swinson herself was a junior minister in the coalition government’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

Although not a perfect comparison with HMRC’s data, Office for National Statistics figures suggest that the UK’s birth rate has remained fairly constant in recent years. For example, there were 698,512 live births in England and Wales in 2013 and 697,852 live births in 2015, the latest year for which data is available.

People Management contacted BEIS for comment, but had not received a response at the time of writing.

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