FOR new mums and dads, the demands of being a new parent is a huge challenge and one that leaves many parents questioning how they can both share the parenting responsibilities and still pursue a career. It’s our view at Cleggs Solicitors that more should be done to change out-dated cultural perceptions. Raising awareness about how shared parental leave (SPL) legislation could benefit families and those running businesses in the vital first year of becoming a parent is key. A guide to the operation of SPL is here.

Shared parental leave provides parents with more flexibility

It is disappointing to see that shared parental leave is still not being used to its full extent by many families two years since it was introduced into statute. SPL provides both parents with the opportunity to consider the best arrangement to care for their child during the child’s first year. It gives mothers and fathers the right to share up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay after the birth or adoption of their child.

The legislation allows new parents to have more flexibility with childcare, whether they are running their own business – allowing the mother to go back to work – or to simply give fathers the chance to share in the leave and spend more time with their child – something that was previously out of their control.

Why the slow uptake in shared parental leave?

The Government had predicted the take-up to be between 2-8% in the first year, and this simply has not happened. It has been revealed by Working Families that as little as one per cent of men have so far used SPL despite more than half stating they wished to use it. It is apparent that more needs to be done to change out-dated perceptions that parental leave is just for mothers and also strengthen the law to protect those choosing to use SPL.

The take up has been underwhelming and it is a concern, after seeing the figures, that there is a perception held by some fathers that if they choose to use the new shared parental leave they may be perceived negatively at work. The research also concludes that one of the reasons for fathers not using SPL is not being able to afford to. It is good, however, to see that the Government recognises that there are some key issues that need to be addressed.

How many weeks are parents entitled to via SPL?

 After a mother’s mandatory two week maternity leave has ended, SPL allows parents to share up to 50 weeks leave between them. They could, for example, take 25 weeks off together, or take it in turns, while receiving 37 weeks of statutory shared parental pay between them, of £140.98 a week or 90% of earnings, whichever is lower, although some employers may offer enhanced earnings.

What does the future hold?

A fuller picture of SPL should be available in 2018 when the Government plans to report in detail on its impact. It is encouraging that policy makers have acknowledged the slow uptake of SPL and have committed to reviewing the effectiveness of it. It is clear the policy is not working as it stands, and changes must be made to make it a viable option for more parents across the country. We hope to see more change to make the policy more attractive, this could include equalising statutory maternity pay and shared parental pay to prevent SPL being a second option and encourage more people to use it.

If you are an employee who is considering using shared parental leave and would like to discuss your options, Jayne Harrison and Emma Tegerdine from our employment law team would be happy to help.