It’s fair to say that the take-up of Shared Parental Leave (SPL) has been fairly poor over the past four years. Since it became law in April 2015, offering the chance for both partners to share up to 50 weeks and 37 weeks of statutory pay following the birth, the numbers signing up for SPL have fallen well below the government’s estimated level of between 2 and 8% of those eligible.
So why do so few dads take shared parental leave?
It’s not that we don’t want to spend time with our children. A recent survey by software firm PowWowNow found that 82% of dads wanted to be available more for their families as the kids grow up. Yet, just 9,200 couples took up the scheme in 2018, which equates to 1% of those eligible.
With 9 out of 10 dads who took SPL reporting it as having a positive effect on their lives, are these reasons really so insurmountable that it is worth missing out on potential family time? Let’s take a look at the reasons behind the low take-up and some ways to try and solve them.
Reasons for Poor Take Up of Shared Parental Leave
One very simple reason that parents didn’t look into SPL was, according to this data, that they simply didn’t know about it. 1 in 5 of the parents surveyed who had not taken up shared parental leave weren’t aware that it was even an option.
However, by far the biggest reason for shunning Shared Parental Leave was to do with cash. In a poll by Totaljobs, 85% of the dads who decided against the new scheme said that they just couldn’t afford to live on £145.18 per week, the current pay level for dads on SPL. As much as we like to think we are a progressive society, men still earn more than women in the majority of situations and, as such, the dad dropping down to a rate lower than minimum wage is not sustainable.
It is certainly worth mentioning that not all of the reasons for couples giving Shared Parental Leave a swerve are huge societal issues that are holding them back from reaching their dreams. Totaljobs found in a report that around half of eligible men simply didn’t want to take SPL. That’s completely fair enough; it’s certainly not for everyone. However, when you think that 82% want to spend more time with their kids, but half don’t want SPL, there’s a real disconnect.
That shows that there is a sizeable group of dads that want to be more involved but aren’t willing to think about using a scheme designed to let them do just that. Could that be down to ingrained traditional attitudes making them think they need to always be the breadwinner, or is it more a case of them preferring spreadsheets to pooey nappies? In reality, there’s probably some truth in both of those scenarios – the problem is that there is no single reason for this situation.
Ways to Make Shared Parental Leave More Attractive
The general consensus is that there are three main ways to solve this problem. Firstly, if we are to make Shared Parental Leave more attractive, we need to change the way we use language. We need to stop stigmatising men who are the primary carer at home in the daytime.
We have to stop all this talk of mother and baby groups, of mother and baby parking spaces. We need to make sure our schools contact the parent who is most likely to be able to do something about the issue they are calling about, rather than automatically assuming that is the mother. If society is more accepting of stay at home dads, there might be a few more who decide to take the plunge.
Secondly, employers have a responsibility to help spread the word. They also need to realise that Shared Parental Leave is not necessarily a bad thing for them at all. In many ways, showing yourself to be the sort of boss that facilitates family-friendly policies leads to happier employees and offers you the chance to attract talented staff for whom that kind of flexible working is becoming ever-more important.
Employers need to make it easier for staff to find out about SPL and implement it. To let them know that they have a legal right not to be discriminated against for choosing to share the leave.
And finally, the money needs looking at urgently. The Trades Union Congress (TUC) suggests making the statutory payment worth the equivalent of minimum wage at least. Indeed, the NHS Staff Council has recently boosted the pay for junior doctors taking SPL, so steps are being taken in some quarters.
The TUC goes even further, claiming that there should be a separate second parent leave period for all to use, which runs in line with maternity leave. Whether that could work is still up in the air, but the one thing we do know is that something needs to happen so that more of those dads who want to spend more time with their children can do that without having to worry about cash or what other people think.
Have you thought about taking Shared Parental Leave, but couldn’t for some reason? Let us know the story in the Comments.