Shared Parental Leave needs to be ‘urgently overhauled’

Campaigners call on government to address the weaknesses of the Shared Parental Leave policy in forthcoming legislation

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Campaigners have called for a massive overhaul of Shared Parental Leave.

They want the current system replaced with a ‘use it or lose it’ element of paternity leave for dads.

Felicia Willow, chief executive of the Fawcett Society said, “We need a radical rethink and what needs to come first is a system that enables and encourages men to take leave. When we asked parents, almost 70% of dads said fathers should be given longer and better-paid time off. The demand is there.”

Currently a mum has to transfer some of her maternity leave to her partner under the Shared Parental Leave (SPL) system. For the small number of people who use SPL the transfer generally takes place towards the end of the allotted year of parental leave meaning it is either unpaid or is paid at the statutory rate of around £150 per week. Men remain primary breadwinner in most families. That means the household has to absorb a bigger drop in income if the man takes SPL.

Urgent overhaul

The campaigners, who include Maternity Action, the National Childbirth Trust, the Royal College of Midwives and the TUC, want to see change in the government’s forthcoming Employment Bill.

“We need to urgently overhaul the parental leave system, not just tinker around the edges. Both parents should have time to care and bond with their baby, without having to transfer leave between them,” said TUC secretary general, Frances O’Grady. “Without meaningful reforms, many dads won’t be able to afford to take time off work when their kids are born. And women will continue to shoulder an unequal share of care and be penalised.”

The TUC has been campaigning for SPL reform for some time. They claim as many as 40% of dads don’t even qualify for it. And that around a quarter of working fathers can’t take their two weeks of statutory paternity leave. Those on zero hours contracts or self employed can’t access Shared Parental Leave.

Government promises

Successive Conservative governments have promised to review Shared Parental Leave for years. Work finally began on evaluating the policy in 2018, three years after SPL was introduced by the Coalition government. However three years on there’s no sign of any findings or a report. A consultation in extending paternity leave that began in 2019 has also disappeared into the long grass.

Without proper research it’s proved hard to evaluate how many dads use Shared Parental Leave. The best estimates suggest it’s between 2-10% of those eligible.

A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said, “Shared Parental Leave gives parents the choice and flexibility to combine work and childcare in a way that suits them, making it easier for parents to spend time with their children in those important early months.”

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