By Liz Gardiner
The first anniversary of Shared Parental Leave (SPL) has passed with a flurry of reports on emerging trends. Headlines of low take-up hide a more complex situation and there is good news on pay for some parents considering whether they can afford to share.
Working Families findings about employers
Working Families research[i] among a wide range of employers was published in January 2016 and looked at whether employers are offering enhanced pay for SPL. They found that among those surveyed:
- a third of employers (32%) are matching Shared Parental Pay (ShPP) with enhanced maternity packages
- 5% of employers are enhancing pay for some, but not all, periods of SPL
- 1% of employers have implemented new contractual pay packages
- 13% of employers are adopting a “wait and see” approach
- around half (48%) of employers are only offering the statutory minimum pay packages.
Reassuringly, for those who were concerned that maternity pay packages would suffer, only 1% of those surveyed said that they had cut back maternity pay to fund ShPP. Those employers who already understand the benefits of retaining women after maternity leave may be keener to enhance pay for those on SPL.
There is no obligation on employers to offer contractual pay on top of the statutory ShPP of £139.58 per week (or 90% of earnings, whichever is lower). Nor do employers who pay contractual maternity pay have to match this for those on ShPP, as long as they ensure that both men and women on SPL receive the same ShPP (although this has yet to be tested at tribunal). However, international research shows fathers need to be paid well to encourage take up of their rights. Families on lower incomes working for employers who don’t offer more than the statutory minimum may find the new flexibility remains unaffordable. Indeed, research by totaljobs says 85% of employees think families cannot afford SPL[ii].
Take up is low
According to Working Families’ research, take up of SPL is low with only between 0.5 and 2% of eligible fathers making use of the new provision. This falls well short of the Government’s estimated 4 – 8% take up. Employers joining a Cityparents Policy Works forum[iii] agreed: take up is lower than they expected, although those firms who have enhanced pay or made efforts to encourage awareness report higher numbers of requests for SPL. Research of 200 employers from My Family Care carried out with the Women’s Business Council[iv] found 1% of all men (not just those eligible) had taken up SPL. My Family Care’s report found fathers’ financial concerns and lack of awareness were barriers to take up, as was a reluctance stated by just over half of mothers to share their maternity leave. Employers say that SPL complexity remains a concern, but this may be more of a problem for HR policy than for practice as Working Families reports that over 80% of employees making use of their new rights are taking leave in a single continuous block. Future take up may be more positive: My Family Care’s report also found that interest among eligible men is high: almost two thirds of men with young children and who are considering having more said it was likely they would take SPL. Working Families also reports that 71% of employers expect take up to increase, and that employers were generally supportive of the new policy.
SPLASH report back
SPLASH members met recently to provide a report back to BIS officials on what’s working and what’s not in the new system. Misconceptions, confusion and, in some cases a lack of information, particularly for women on Maternity Allowance were highlighted. Despite the description of “shared” leave it isn’t always clear to parents that the mother has to reduce her leave for the father/partner to take leave. Many fathers/partners are surprised to find that the first six weeks of ShPP, unlike Statutory Maternity Pay are only paid at the flat rate and not at 90% of earnings. Self-employed fathers have no rights to paid time off. On the positive side, the new system does offer more flexibility for eligible families and the largely supportive feedback from employers gives some reason for optimism.
[i] Shared parental leave: the perspective from employers. Working Families January 2016
[ii] A year into Shared Parental Leave in the UK. Employee Survey totaljobs March 2016 (www.totaljobs.com/insidejob/shared-parental-leave-survey-report-2016/)
[iii] Cityparents News April 2016 (www.cityparents.co.uk/News/Policy-News-For-Working-Parents-Apr-16.htm)
[iv] Shared parental leave: where are we now? My Family Care and Women’s Business Council April 2016