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Shared Parental Leave isn't working - new parents need stronger rights

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After four years of dire uptake, the Shared Parental Leave Scheme needs a total overhaul - and stronger paternity rights are well overdue

It’s four years to the day since the Shared Parental Leave (SPL) scheme was introduced to encourage more fathers to take leave in the year following the birth of their child.

At the time, the coalition government heralded the scheme as a game changer for parents who wanted to spend more time with their babies and share the day to day caring responsibilities.

The then employment relations minister Jo Swinson MP also boasted that it would help to increase workplace equality by giving women the freedom to go back to work earlier.

But four years on, the scheme has had very little impact.

According to analysis by the University of Birmingham, only 9,200 new parents (just over 1% of those entitled) took Shared Parental Pay in 17/18.

That’s even lower than the dismal take up rate of 2-8 per cent the government sneaked into its 2013 Impact Assessment of the legislation.

So why are new parents not using SPL, and what needs to change to make it better?

Not enough support

The Shared Parental Leave scheme only provides a small level of financial support for parents who want to use it.

Unless their employers have an enhanced workplace policy, parents taking shared parental leave will only receive £145.18 per week.

Many parents can't afford to forgo their usual salary for this lower amount, because it’s simply not enough to pay the bills and other outgoings.

Unions have been working to address this problem by negotiating enhanced Shared Parental Leave policies (page 31 of the TUC 2016 Equality Audit details examples of union negotiated SPL policies across a range of sectors).

Many of these agreements have seen shared parental pay increased to match occupational maternity pay.

What needs to change?

Shared parental leave needs a complete overhaul in line with the following core principles:

  • All workers must have the right to access shared parental leave and spend time with their new born children, regardless of employment status.
    Because parents who are agency workers, on zero-hours contracts and those in self employment are currently excluded from SPL.
  • Financial support for those accessing leave must be increased.
    Because for many parents, taking SPL is not an affordable option.
  • Parents should be entitled to access SPL from day one in their jobs.
    There is currently a six month qualifying period for these rights, but it's hard to see why.

Stronger paternity leave

Alongside these reforms, paternity leave needs to be significantly strengthened to provide an alternative route for new parents wishing to take leave.

We want to see parents other than the mother/adopter get the right to a longer period of leave following the birth of their child, to be used at any point in the year following the birth.

And these parents should be eligible for this leave in their own right. Currently, access to shared parental leave depends upon a mother giving up part of her maternity leave.

This new leave entitlement must not affect mothers’ existing entitlements to maternity leave and pay.

It should be accessible to all, available from day one and offer a level of financial support that doesn't put off people looking to take advantage of it.

TUC analysis shows that nearly 500,000 fathers would benefit from this new right.

Times are changing

Parents attitudes are shifting.

Fathers want a bigger role in childcare and to spend more time with their children.

But workplace cultures and the range of employment rights available to parents aren't helping them to balance childcare with work responsibilities.

It's about time that workplace cultures caught up with modern parenting.

New parents need enhanced rights that are accessible and affordable to all.

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