Exactly two years since the launch of Shared Parental Leave (SPL), take-up of the policy remains very poor with parents confused by its complexity and put off for cultural reasons.
Dr Emma Banister, Senior Lecturer in Consumer Research at Alliance MBS, says employers are also failing to meet their side of the bargain with many workplaces not providing clear, accessible information and seeming unable or unwilling to enhance statutory SPL pay.
Precisely what can be done to help tackle these issues was the subject of a recent key event at Alliance MBS which brought together leading academics and researchers in the field.
Said Dr Banister: “Research has shown that men are actually really keen to take SPL but are hindered by lack of information, difficulties dealing with employers, and by the wider parenting culture. While SPL clearly reflects and signals changing attitudes and ideals, I question whether the policy in its current form can inform the change in fathering practices as was originally envisaged.”
Experience at work
She added that experiences often depended on the employer. “Generally speaking larger companies are able to embrace SPL much better than smaller firms which are often much less flexible and don’t have the resources to provide the information that employees need.”
The point was echoed at the conference by Jonathan Swan, Head of Research at Working Families. He added: “SPL is working partially and it really depends on who your employer is. Some employers are going the extra mile, enhancing shared parental leave and paying it very well. But then there are many employers who don’t pay anything at all. Shared parental leave needs to evolve to give all fathers the properly paid right to time off.”
To help increase awareness of SPL, Working Families has been working with Alliance MBS, Lancaster University School of Management and the Fatherhood Institute to create a new video case book showing the first-hand experiences of parents who have used the scheme.
Dr Ben Kerrane, Senior Lecturer at Lancaster University Management School, said there remained lots of cultural barriers to men taking SPL. “The men we have spoken to have been met with great surprise by the public and people they work with. They are asked ‘why on earth would a man want to take time out to look after a baby?’ The men who have taken SPL are advocates for this, they want it to work, but are met by a number of cultural barriers.”
Jonathan Swan said paternity leave now needed to match statutory maternity pay. “This would send out the signal that mothers and fathers are equal. The next step then needs to be the expansion of the availability of SPL to fathers whose partners don’t work, and to the self-employed or those working in the gig economy.”
Adrienne Burgess, Joint Chief Executive & Head of Research at the Fatherhood Institute, added: “What do we need to do to ensure fathers take up leave? Firstly we have to ensure it is a genuinely independent right and that means if the father doesn’t use it the family lose it. Secondly, it needs to be well paid so that it is a disincentive for the family not to have the father use the leave. If you have a father with decently paid leave you can bet that family is going to choose that he takes it.”
SPL allows employed parents to divide up to 50 weeks of leave between them in their child’s first year. According to a new survey from Working Families, more than half of fathers would use SPL. However of those fathers who said they wouldn’t use the scheme, more than a third said this was because they couldn’t afford to. A quarter didn’t know about SPL at all.
Added Dr Banister: “Many employers don’t have the resources to be able to provide dedicated information to their employees so working parents can find it difficult to work out the options available to them. These new films let parents and employers hear the honest, lived experiences – both positive and negative – of those who have used SPL. They’re freely available to everyone and we hope they can help bridge the gap in knowledge of the scheme.”
Watch highlights from the event: