Last year, the new scheme of Shared Parental Leave (SPL) was introduced for parents of children born on or after 5th April 2015 (see our previous blog for further information on this scheme). The aims were to allow more flexibility for parents and to allow more fathers to take extended leave on the birth of their child. One year on, what has the impact of the scheme been?
Two recent surveys have found that generally the uptake of shared parental leave is relatively low, but a key factor for most employees is pay.
XpertHR Benchmarking recently carried out a survey on the impact of SPL, producing data based on the responses of 397 employers with a combined workforce of 827,083 employees. Additionally, My Family Care, in combination with the Women’s Business Council, also surveyed over 1000 parents and 200 businesses.
- XpertHR found that while 72% of the employers surveyed said that some of their employees were eligible to make SPL requests, only one-third had received requests. Of the employers who said that eligible employees had put in shared parental leave requests:
- half reported that only one eligible employee had made a request
- 20% had two eligible employees requesting shared parental leave
- 25% had had between three and eight requests.
- My Family Care found that almost half of the employers surveyed had no male employee make an SPL request. A further 11% of the employers reported only between 0.5% and 1% of male workers had taken SPL. Fewer than 10% reported more than 1% uptake. It should be noted that this takes into account all males, and not just those who may be eligible.
- A key objective of shared parental leave was to encourage more fathers to play a greater caring role by taking longer, more flexible leave. Only one in 10 of the employers surveyed by XpertHR agreed or strongly agreed that the new right is achieving this objective.
- However, despite government forecast that the typical amount of shared parental leave was likely to be one or two weeks, the XpertHR survey found that the median amount taken was 12 weeks per employee, with an average of 12.4 weeks, suggesting those who do take leave are keen to take more time to spend with children. My Family Care found that 87% of male employees surveyed would like to take more leave to look after children, and 63% of those considering having more children saying they were likely to exercise the right to SPL.
The survey also found that the availability of enhanced pay appears to be one of, if not the only major factor(s) for employees in deciding to take shared parental leave. My Family Care found that 80% of employees agreed that their decision on taking SPL would depend on their financial circumstances and the availability of enhanced pay.
- Of the employers surveyed by XpertHR, one in four either enhances shared parental pay above the statutory minimum or plans to over the coming year. More than half of the survey respondents currently offer enhanced maternity pay – more than double that currently offering enhanced shared parental pay.
- Employers that enhanced shared parental pay were twice as likely to receive a SPL request as those who offer only the statutory rate. Where employers offered enhanced pay, more than half received requests. The figures are perhaps most striking for employers with more than 1000 employees: almost 92% received requests where they offered enhanced pay, whereas the figure is only around 57% for those who didn’t.
- The employers surveyed also believe that affordability is a key reason for the generally low uptake. More than one in three disagreed that shared parental leave is seen as an affordable option by their employees. A number of employers that do not offer enhanced pay also noted that eligible fathers in some cases opted to take paid annual leave rather than SPL as the statutory pay was too low.
These figures are in some ways unsurprising. Given that the statutory rate of pay is lower than the average weekly earnings of many employees, both parents taking SPL without enhanced pay can result in a significant drop in earnings. The fact that uptake is much higher where pay is enhanced certainly suggests that there are perhaps more employees who would wish to take shared parental leave if it was more financially viable.
There have also been concerns about the necessary culture change, as many fathers may also have concerns regarding the impact taking longer than statutory paternity leave may have on their jobs and their prospects of promotion. Half of male employees surveyed by My Family Care felt that taking SPL would potentially have a negative impact on their career. Only 40% of the employees they surveyed felt that the taking of SPL was encouraged by their employer.
While these results are only those of two surveys and may not be entirely reflective of the true position, the findings would tend to suggest that, while uptake of SPL is currently low, the desire to take such leave is actually much higher and it is factors such as the attitude of employers and the availability of enhanced pay which may determine how popular the exercise of the right becomes.