If lockdown results in the predicted baby boom, will we see more fathers taking advantage of shared parental leave? Will these months of working from home encourage new fathers to spend more time with their families when the next child comes along, or will the relentless disturbed nights and episodes of Peppa Pig have put them off?
Shared Parental Leave (SPL) has been around for a while now and enables parents to take leave flexibly in the first year of their child’s life. After a two-week period of compulsory maternity leave, parents can choose how to divide the remaining 50 weeks. For instance, they could take 25 weeks each, or the father could take the whole 50 weeks off - whatever works best for the couple. Shared parental leave can also be taken in blocks, separated by periods of work, or couples can also choose to be off work together.
It sounds a great idea on paper, so why do only 2% of couples take advantage of this flexibility? Well, as is often the case, it comes down to money. Employees who take shared parental leave receive just £151.97 a week or 90% of their average weekly earnings, whichever is lower. Statutory maternity leave on the other hand is more generous, paying 90% of wages (with no maximum) in the first 6 weeks before reverting to the basic £151.97. What’s more, employers are much more likely to enhance maternity pay than shared parental leave pay. (And yes, that does sound discriminatory, but both the government and the courts have confirmed that it is acceptable).
Other countries are more generous. Parents in Sweden can receive an 80% salary allowance for 390 days, while Norway offers 49 weeks at 100% salary or 59 weeks at 80% salary. The UK is pretty strapped for cash right now so you can understand why increasing the rate of shared parental leave pay isn’t high on the government’s list of priorities. Some larger employers are stepping up to the mark though – the Civil Service pays up to 26 weeks' full pay for employees on SPL while employees who have worked for Virgin Management for more than four years can receive 100% pay for 52 weeks.
Shared parental leave needs to be made affordable for everyone, otherwise the gender pay gap will never go away and genuine equality in the workplace will never be achieved.
The gender pay gap kicks in when people hit their thirties, and the demands of motherhood are clearly a major cause