Two-year anniversary of Shared Parental Leave: is it working for fathers?

The Women and Equalities Committee has published written evidence from fathers about Shared Parental Leave (SPL), two years since the flagship Government scheme was introduced.

The evidence was submitted to the Committee’s inquiry into Fathers and the workplace, and comes as a survey by Working Families today reveals that while 52% of fathers said they would use the scheme, of the 48% who would not, almost a third said it was because they could not afford to. The findings also show that a quarter did not know about SPL.

Shared Parental Leave was introduced on 5th April 2015 and is intended to give parents “more choice and flexibility” around who cares for their child in the first year. It is designed to enable “fathers to play a bigger role than ever before”, according to the Government.

Among the submissions, some fathers cited the low take up of Shared Parental Leave, initially estimated by the Government itself to be between 2 and 8%, and questioned whether the policy is working. One said:

“I would dearly love to improve my work life balance and spend more time raising my children and lightening the load from my exhausted wife, who has a lowly paid night-time supermarket job because she had to give up her better paid day job at the time of having children.

 “Shared Parental Leave appeared pointless to us (and probably most relationships) post birth because I’m the breadwinner and it makes no financial sense, as we struggle financially already. Hence the predicted 2-8% take up. It sounded fantastic until you read the small print. Men should be allowed a longer period of full paid leave, like women can be entitled to.”

Another father told the inquiry:

“The introduction of shared parental leave was seen by my wife and I as a welcome measure to encourage the sharing of childcare responsibilities, for what we had planned to be months 7-9 after our son’s birth, prior to him being ready for full-time day-care. […] Our plan was to alternate working weeks in the shared period.

 “The reality was that my employer appeared to have little practical consideration for how shared parental leave would work (summer 2016) and what its implications would be. Indeed, I would have been the pilot case in my unit of work. While there was a form to complete at my workplace to formally apply for shared parental leave, the implication of taking it was that workload would not be reduced at my unit of work, nor responsibilities passed to others. Thus, I would simply have received less pay for holding down the same workload. So, taking up shared parental leave would have led to me increasingly working at evenings and weekends as ‘spillover’ of duties from dealing with the same amount of work in addition to taking care of my son in the shared parental leave provision on alternate weeks.

 “This differs markedly from my wife’s experience of maternity leave where her workload had to be delegated to others, as she would not be at work for a protected period of time, and where a formal written plan was required with her line management to document the transfer of workplace responsibilities during her protected maternity leave, with a subsequent return-to-work plan. The current shared parental leave arrangements appear to encourage an unrealistic stance that fathers can hold down same intensity & responsibility level of work in shared parental leave, through being given more flexibility to balance duties. My experiences may partly explain the low uptake.”

 The Committee also heard:

 “Having taken paternity leave I received £294.65 less than my usual take home pay. This is equivalent to 256 packs of nappies and with 24 nappies per pack that equates to over 6000 nappies! Having a baby brings with it many and various expenses. Losing almost £300 at a time when parents need that money most is nonsensical and may act as a disincentive to some fathers taking leave at a time when it is important to have opportunity and space to bond as a family.

 “[…] We have agreed that we will not opt to share leave, under the new parental leave provisions. I am supportive of my wife taking this leave so she can ensure my daughter has the best possible start in life. However, in circumstances where the mother is experiencing a reduction in income, this puts pressure on the father to work full time in order to limit the financial losses affecting the household. I want to ensure my daughter is able to go to parent and toddler groups and other such classes, which cost money as they are privately run businesses. When my wife returns to work we will need to pay for childcare, which in our city costs £50 per day. Knowing these costs are forthcoming may act as a further barrier to fathers switching to part time work, as it is simply not affordable.”

 Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, Maria Miller MP, said:

“Shared Parental Leave has been a key family friendly policy of this Government and its introduction two years ago was very welcome. However, as the written evidence to our inquiry shows, fathers are questioning whether it works for them in practice, and that is a concern. Whether it be the financial implications of taking up SPL or the attitudes and culture of employers, this policy may not be having the intended effect. As our fathers and the workplace inquiry continues, we will be considering this and making recommendations to ensure that fathers have the support they need to care for their children.”

 As part of its inquiry, the Committee has published more than 50 written evidence submissions from fathers and organisations, including the Government, on its website.

The first oral evidence session was held on Wednesday 22nd March 2017 and considered what fathers want, workplace culture and the barriers men face in combining work with childcare. The next session is due to take place on Wednesday 19th April 2017 and will hear from employers’ representatives and unions.