Long-awaited government evaluation of Shared Parental Leave shows take-up remains low and is mainly higher-paid people in big organisations.
Shared Parental Leave [SPL] has mostly benefited older, higher paid, white, highly qualified employees who work in large organisations, according to the long-awaited Government evaluation of the policy, which still struggles with low take-up rates due in large part to low Shared Parental Pay.
The report says the take-up rate for SPL is 1% among mums and 5% among dads, with pay being a key issue, although it states that this is in line with forecasts when the policy was originally launched in 2015. It says take-up was 6,200 in 2015-2016 and rose to 13,000 in 2021-22. In one section, it states that “there were some concerns raised if large volumes of parents were to take SPL”.
The report cites qualitative research which suggests that employer support, including offering enhanced pay, is a crucial factor in the take-up of SPL. One in four mothers and one in three fathers who participated in the Government’s survey of parents stated the negative financial impact was the main reason for not taking SPL.
The report focuses on whether SPL has met its aims, including boosting shared parenting and having a positive impact on women’s career progression and shows those who have taken it report benefits for their work-life balance, including facilitating fathers’ take-up of childcare responsibilities. It says the majority of parents who took SPL (85%) are satisfied with their current working arrangements, and two in five parents who took SPL are ‘very satisfied’ (40%).
It adds that employers are also “broadly satisfied” with the policy, saying, for instance, that it helps with staff recruitment and retention.
Other issues covered include mothers’ willingness to share their leave with dads, which the report says is improving. The positive impact of SPL on sharing childcare generally was also noted. Over half [53%] of those surveyed said taking the leave has made at least some difference to how they plan to share childcare. Around one in 10 mothers who took SPL (9%) cited the positive consequences of SPL on their career progression. A similar proportion of fathers who took SPL (13%) cited the positive consequences of their leave on their partner’s career progression, although dads were more likely than mums to note a negative effect on their own career progression from taking the leave.
Employers said SPL gives parents flexibility and choice (15%), helps with staff recruitment and retention (14%), improves employee morale (14%) and benefits parents and children (13%). The most commonly reported disadvantages cited among employers were the need to arrange cover for staff (10%) – particularly for discontinuous blocks of leave, a negative impact on running the business (10%) and the loss of staff (9%).
The report says employers are generally supportive of SPL, but says some are less positive the longer an employee wants to take off work and employers says when employees understand how SPL works the process is easier. There has been much criticism about the complexity of the system. Employers who had staff taking SPL were more likely to support flexible working and to offer and promote family-friendly policies more generally.
Campaigners have long criticised SPL for being underpaid, too complex and reliant on mums opting to give up their leave. Many have called instead for longer periods of better paid statutory paternity leave.
Pregnant Then Screwed, who recently called for six weeks of paternity pay at 90% of salary, responded to the report on Twitter: “We have been waiting for the Government’s evaluation of shared parental leave for six years. Finally it has landed – unfortunately with no admittance that it really hasn’t worked… It definitely wasn’t worth the wait.”