A government report on Shared Parental Leave (SPL) reveals a low take-up by eligible parents, with only 1% of eligible mothers and 5% of eligible fathers or partners taking it.
What is SPL?
SPL is a type of paid family leave that enables eligible employees to take flexible leave during the first year of their child’s life or the first year after adoption. Families who opt to take Shared Parental Leave (SPL) can take up to 50 weeks of leave, of which up to 39 can be paid at the weekly statutory rate of £172.48 (as at September 2023). Partners can take leave concurrently or consecutively depending on their preferences and subject to certain eligibility and notice criteria. It is intended to encourage a sharing of parental responsibilities and to break the stereotypical assumptions that childcare is always the mother’s role.
The government report
The Department for Business and Trade recently published their report evaluating whether the SPL scheme has achieved its original objectives (the ‘Report’). The long-awaited Report has revealed that only 1% of eligible mothers and 5% of eligible fathers and partners have taken up SPL. HMRC data shows that those in receipt of Shared Parental Pay has consistently improved since its introduction, from 6,200 in 2015-16 to 13,000 in 2021-22. This is in line with forecasts made in the original impact assessment, but it is clear from the findings that SPL is not a popular or even well-known form of parental leave. This begs the question, why aren’t more parents taking up SPL?
Why is uptake low?
The Report indicates several barriers and factors explaining the low uptake of SPL, including financial factors, knowledge of eligibility and rights, as well as a lack of awareness by employers and procedural complexity. The Report highlights that over seven in ten employers were aware of SPL, but also reported that employers were not actively promoting SPL to employees. This failure to actively promote SPL may be the reason why a third of mothers and nearly half among all fathers who did not take SPL, had never heard of it before.
The lack of awareness around SPL could largely be due to the reported perception of complexity surrounding eligibility and entitlement of SPL amongst both employers and employees. Employers are highlighting issues around having to deal with another employer, and employees are complaining that it is difficult to understand their eligibility and rights compared with maternity and paternity leave. There is a clear distinction between the understanding of SPL in larger workplaces, with 89% of managers reported having some knowledge of SPL in contrast with only 12% of managers in smaller workplaces. The Report research concluded that line managers offered different, and not always accurate interpretations of the leave and pay entitlements. This lack of understanding in the management team will trickle down to employees who similarly feel confused about their entitlement, and consequentially, will feel less inclined to take SPL over more traditional parental leave.
Financial constraints and access to enhanced pay is also impacting the take-up of SPL, with one in four mothers and one in three fathers stating that negative financial impact was the main reason for not taking such leave. Currently, parents taking advantage of SPL are entitled to £172.48 per week and if both parents decide to take SPL leave, this could cause a significant reduction in household income which is unsuitable and unsustainable for the majority of parents. Whilst some employers are offering enhanced pay to mothers and fathers/partners, the enhanced pay provisions for partners generally reflects those of the mothers - for example, full pay for the first four months after the birth. More often than not, the mother is not going to give up leave within the first few months from birth and is therefore preventing the father/partner from taking SPL during the enhanced period. This being the case, any enhanced pay feels like a non-offer to the father/partner.
The Report highlighted some positive changes in attitudes to childcare, with SPL fathers being twice as likely than fathers in general to cite wanting to share childcare as the main factor influencing their decision on which type of parental leave to take. However, the scheme operates on the basis that mothers must ‘transfer’ their leave entitlement to the father or partner. The transferrable nature of SPL means that, if a mother wants to use most or all of her maternity leave entitlement, there is little or no leave available to the father/second parent – another added complexity to SPL.
Can we increase uptake?
There is a lot of commentary around how SPL can be improved to increase the uptake by parents, including:
- Individual and non-transferrable rights for each parent;
- Better rates of statutory pay;
- Employers increasing or introducing enhanced contractual pay for SPL; and
- Changes to partners enhanced pay provisions to allow for them to take enhanced pay at any point during the first 39 weeks.
Whilst some of these changes sit at a governmental level, employers can make simple changes to encourage the uptake of SPL within their workforce – adopt change to policies to allow for more flexible enhanced pay provisions, training sessions should be had with HR and management teams so that information provided to employees is consistent and clear and encourage partners to take parental leave if this interest is show