Shared Parental Leave – Why don’t employees use it?

Shared Parental leave (SPL) has been available to couples since 5th April 2015. This allows parents to share 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay after they have a baby. The leave can be taken separately or at the same time.

But why have less than 5% of eligible couples on average have used it since it was introduced nearly 4 years ago?

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) estimate that of 285,000 eligible couples, only 2% to 8% (i.e. 570 to 2,280) of them use the scheme. Law firm EMW said its own research pointed to figures of 1% to 3%.

Government has spent several million pounds promoting it, so why is take up so poor?

  • BEIS research says only 49% of people have heard of it
  • Only 8% of people claim to know a reasonable amount about the system; and
  • The rate of pay during Shared Parental leave paid period is £148.68 (2019 – 2020) and simply many parents cannot afford the financial hit.

It is an awkward truth, that many parents cannot afford to use SPL because Government has designed a flawed system which discourages all but a few couples from using it.

In countries where there is a more equitable system, take up is vastly more than it is in Britain, 91% of eligible couples in Iceland, 86% in Quebec and 63% in Portugal.

An exception to the rule is Aviva who introduced a scheme in November 2017 where parents employed by Aviva are eligible to the same amount of paid and unpaid time off, regardless of gender, sexual orientation or how they became a parent (birth, adoption or surrogacy). All employees are able to take up to 12 months of leave when a new child arrives, including 26 weeks at full basic pay.

  • Almost every new dad at the insurer has opted to take more than the statutory two weeks of paid paternity; and
  • Two thirds of eligible dads opt to take six months off work

What employee would opt for a fortnight of shared parental leave for which they are paid £297.36 (the statutory rate) when an employee working the average working week on the highest rate of NMW will get £607.54 in the same period (2019 – 2020 rates used). The gap widens further if we use the average weekly wage from the ONS, for which a fortnight’s pay will exceed a £1,000.00.

It was one of the Government’s key objectives to “encourage more fathers to play a greater caring role in the first year, via longer, more flexible shared leave,” when SPL was introduced. Most parents cannot afford to take SPL because of the hit financially.

Has this system failed the Government’s original intentions? Leave us a comment and let us know your thoughts.

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