COMMONS

Sharing parental leave

Can you give us evidence to present to the Secretary of State to respond to the Government's rejection of our recommendations to promote take-up of paternity and parental leave?

Our recommendations

Our report found that unequal sharing of unpaid caring responsibilities between men and women has a significant impact on women's employment opportunities and the gender pay gap. The Government's flagship policy in this area, Shared Parental Leave, is not yet having an effect on this.

We recommended that:

  • If Government is to achieve its objective of reducing the gender pay gap it needs a more effective policy on shared parental leave.
  • Current weaknesses can be addressed by three months paid paternal leave for second parents. This can only be taken when the mother returns to work and would be additional to current parental leave benefits. Eligibility for paternal leave would be the same as current entitlement to paternity leave.
  • The three months' non-transferrable paternal leave would be paid at 90% of salary (capped) for four weeks and then at the same level as SPL.

Government response

The Government rejected these recommendations.

  • Please read the full Government response to these recommendations before contributing your comments.
  • We're looking for strong evidence-based arguments responding to the Government's case. These may include references to academic research, case studies, and examples of what has worked in other countries. Please include references as hyperlinks where possible.

The forum is now closed. The deadline for comments was midday on 12 April 2017.

Image: iStockphoto

10 Responses to sharing parental leave

Working Families says:
April 26, 2017 at 11:40 AM
The Government has indicated that they will be evaluating the shared parental leave and pay scheme. To date, the government has not released any official figures of take up so it is unclear how this will be assessed. One useful way to assess the policy and understand the wider context for shared parental leave is to run a 5th Work Life Balance study. This would be a rigorous and effective way of testing policy, and would build on the previous surveys to develop a full picture of employer and employee perspectives.

The Government has said they will work with the Behavioural Insights Team to explore the key factors which are taken into consideration by parents in deciding how caring responsibilities are shared between women and men. They should examine existing research literature, including that from abroad (and in particular the Nordic countries) where much work has already been undertaken. In addition we would recommend that they familiarise themselves with projects currently underway which examine the way that couples negotiate and decide on leave practices. Some examples of literature:

• Baxter, J. and Smart, D., 2011. Fathering in Australia among couple families with young children. Occasional Paper No.37, Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Australian Government, Canberra.

• Huerta, M., Adema, W., Baxter, J., Han, W-J., Lausten, M., Lee, R. and Waldfogel, J., 2013. Fathers’ Leave, Fathers’ Involvement and Child Development: Are They Related? Evidence from Four OECD Countries. OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers, No. 140, OECD Publishing

• Lammi-Taskula, J., 2008. Doing fatherhood: understanding the gendered use of parental leave in Finland. Fathering, 6(2), pp. 133-148

• Forthcoming, 2018
Twamley, K. Choice, gender equality and love in early parenthood, University College London

• Forthcoming 2017
Norman, H, Fagan, C. Which fathers are involved in looking after their children? Manchester University

Any assessment of SPL should also include consideration of how far the policy intention to increase father involvement in the first year of their child’s life has been met – including whether a model of standalone paternity leave may better address this issue, and whether the proposal to extend SPL to grandparents would undermine it.

We have recently surveyed fathers about SPL. We found willingness and appetite to make use of the scheme but that pay is a key factor https://www.workingfamilies.org.uk/news/half-of-fathers-would-use-shared-parental-leave-survey-finds/ On this point, there is evidence that enhanced pay increases take up, http://www.personneltoday.com/hr/shared-parental-leave-take-up-2016/ what can the government do to encourage employers to enhance pay? Or be an exemplar and enhance as an employer/contractor?
Women's Equality Party says:
April 26, 2017 at 11:21 AM
The new system of Shared Parental Leave is a step-change from the previous split between maternity leave of 52 weeks and paternity leave of just two. However, there is still a long way to go to ensure a fully balanced system of parental leave, where both parents are able to take time out from work to care for their young children. WE believe that parental leave policies must be carefully crafted to work for parents of any gender.

Most mothers in employment are entitled to six weeks leave at 90% of pay while fathers are guaranteed no such leave: their paid entitlement is only two weeks and paid at the statutory rate of just £140.98 per week. International evidence demonstrates that the best way to increase fathers' take-up of parental leave is to allocate a longer and better compensated period on a "use it or lose it" basis - otherwise the stigma and cost of taking time away from work remain huge barriers to take-up.

By the Government's own admission, take up rates since the Shared Parental Leave policy was introduced in April 2015 have been low - estimated at between 2% and 8%. The financial implications of the father or partner taking leave should have a high rate of compensation, be an individual entitlement and be flexible, if fathers are to use it (Lewis and Campbell 2007 in Davaki, K 'Benefits of Maternity/Paternity leave in the EU27' 2010)

The Committee recommends three months' non-transferable paternal leave paid at 90% of salary (capped) for four weeks and then at the same level as Shared Parental Leave. WE support a fully equal system of parental leave which would, as a first step, guarantee each parent (including same-sex couples and adoptive parents) six weeks away from work on 90% of pay, with an additional 10 months of leave at statutory pay to be shared between the parents.

Additionally, WE recommend that single parents should be able to nominate a second caregiver of their choice for this entitlement, and father's or same sex partners' entitlements should not be reliant on whether a mother is working or not.

WE also want to protect low-income women, and those who are struggling to find work - which can be extremely challenging during pregnancy. Unless a woman has been employed continuously for at least 26 weeks ending with the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth, and has an average weekly earnings at least equal to the lower earnings limit for National Insurance Contributions, she will not be entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay. WE recommend that state-funded Statutory Maternity Pay, including the first six weeks' entitlement at 90% of average weekly salary, should be available to all working parents, including those who are self-employed.

WE acknowledge that our preferred system of shared parental leave will require a substantial investment. WE believe that as the economy grows, this should be a priority for increased funding. Therefore WE support all efforts to move towards this approach, and will prioritise the extension of non-transferable paternity leave, paid at a statutory rate, to six weeks as a first step.

In addition to improving the shared parental leave policy, investment in childcare is urgently needed. The cost of childcare can be punishing, in particular for those on low incomes or wishing to undertake training or education. While many parents choose to spend time at home with young children, at least 600,000 stay-at-home parents, mainly mothers, would prefer to work if they could afford to do so. Evidence shows that a 10% increase in the proportion of mothers could raise £1.5bn in increased tax revenue and reduced in-work benefits.

WE believe that childcare is a key area for public investment, Government plans will leave untouched the gap in support between the end of paid parental leave at nine months and the child's third birthday. They will also undermine the early education of children whose parents are not working.

Government-funded childcare should be available for all children from the end of paid parental leave at nine months. The first 15 hours a week - where the educational benefits of childcare for children are clearest - should be free, with the rest payable at £1 an hour by parents, as recommended by the Resolution Foundation's Commission on Living Standards. Parents who work non-traditional hours and need more flexible childcare will have the option of a voucher alternative of equivalent value. For school age children, pre and after-school clubs will also be available on school premises from 8am to 6pm.
UN Women UK says:
April 26, 2017 at 10:46 AM
Of the recommendations made by the Committee’s Gender Pay Gap Report we would in particular urge the Government to develop a more effective policy on shared parental leave (recommendation 6(a)) as this is intended to bring about a cultural change in attitudes towards shared parenting over time.

The report produced by the Committee has highlighted the lack of effective policy in many of the areas that contribute to the gender pay gap. We support all 17 recommendations of the Committee and believe the implementation of these recommendations would move the Government closer to it’s own commitment to eliminate the gender pay gap within a generation and provide a stepping stones towards to the achievement of SDG5, and targets 5.1 and 5.4 in particular.

We would recommend that the Committee in its report asks the Government to answer the following points:
1. What actions will the Government take to support women to re enter the public sector workforce outside of the education sector?
2. What further evidence does the Government intend to seek to establish the root causes behind the significant gender pay gap of 27% in the Education sector?
3. The Government states “we must avoid a situation where women are moving into work that is below their skill level, simply because they wish to work flexibly or fewer hours in order to balance with their caring responsibilities” in response to recommendation 5. We would suggest that the Government provide a full explanation as to why it is too soon to formally evaluate the extension of the Right to Request Flexible Working?
4. What additional policies does the Government propose to put in place that recognise the value of unpaid work, in particular caring responsibilities?
5. Can they make public their findings from their engagement with businesses functioning in highly feminised low paid sectors such as care?
6. Can the Government confirm if they had any direct engagement with women working in highly feminised low paid sectors?
7. What additional measures do the Government propose to tackle the gender pay gap experienced by women over 40 years old?
8. What additional targeted support is the Government planning to provide to small businesses in relation to the gender pay gap?
Young Women's Trust says:
April 26, 2017 at 10:41 AM
Many of the young women we asked told us that the current arrangements for shared parental leave fall short of what would be required to make a difference.

Most felt that it was important for both parents to have a period of bonding with their child- something that was not facilitated by the limited nature of paternity leave.

“The two-weeks paternity is ridiculously short after such a massive event. Returning to work so early can also affect bonding with the child”
Willow

Whilst it was accepted that shared parental leave had the potential to allow fathers and partners to take longer periods of leave, it was felt that the impact was limited as the trade-off with mother’s maternity leave allowance and the financial impact for couples prevented many from taking advantage of the allowances.


“It would help with family bonding but don’t think it wouldn’t be helpful or change employer’s opinions on mum’s returning”
Laura


“A negative could be that there would be less money coming in and this would / could mean that there may be some financial troubles – in theory it is nice, in practice it is not sustainable”
Anonymous

“Men or mother’s partner should be able to take parental leave without it affecting their partner’s maternity leave”
Willow
The Women's Equality Party says:
April 12, 2017 at 12:21 PM
The new system of Shared Parental Leave is a step-change from the previous split between maternity leave of 52 weeks and paternity leave of just two. However, there is still a long way to go to ensure a fully balanced system of parental leave, where both parents are able to take time out from work to care for their young children. WE believe that parental leave policies must be carefully crafted to work for parents of any gender.

Most mothers in employment are entitled to six weeks leave at 90% of pay while fathers are guaranteed no such leave: their paid entitlement is only two weeks and paid at the statutory rate of just £140.98 per week. International evidence demonstrates that the best way to increase fathers’ take-up of parental leave is to allocate a longer and better compensated period on a “use it or lose it” basis – otherwise the stigma and cost of taking time away from work remain huge barriers to take-up.

By the Government’s own admission, take up rates since the Shared Parental Leave policy was introduced in April 2015 have been low – estimated at between 2% and 8%. The financial implications of the father or partner taking leave are a key consideration. Cross-national evidence shows clearly that parental leave should have a high rate of compensation, be an individual entitlement and be flexible, if fathers are to use it.

The Committee recommends three months’ non-transferrable paternal leave paid at 90% of salary (capped) for four weeks and then at the same level as Shared Parental Leave. WE support a fully equal system of parental leave which would, as a first step, guarantee each parent (including same-sex couples and adoptive parents) six weeks away from work on 90% of pay, with an additional 10 months of leave at statutory pay to be shared between the parents.

Additionally, WE recommend that single parents should be able to nominate a second caregiver of their choice for this entitlement, and fathers’ or same sex partners’ entitlements should not be reliant on whether a mother is working or not.

WE also want to protect low-income women, and those who are struggling to find work – which can be extremely challenging during pregnancy. Unless a woman has been employed continuously for at least 26 weeks ending with the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth, and has an average weekly earnings at least equal to the lower earnings limit for National Insurance contributions , she will not be entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay.

WE recommend that state-funded Statutory Maternity Pay, including the first six weeks’ entitlement at 90% of average weekly salary, should be available to all working parents, including those who are self-employed.

WE acknowledge that our preferred system of shared parental leave will require a substantial investment. WE believe that as the economy grows, this should be a priority for increased funding. Therefore WE support all efforts to move towards this approach, and will prioritise the extension of non-transferable paternity leave, paid at a statutory rate, to six weeks as a first step.

In addition to improving the shared parental leave policy, investment in childcare is urgently needed. The cost of childcare can be punishing, in particular for those on low incomes or wishing to undertake training or education. While many parents choose to spend time at home with young children, at least 600,000 stay-at-home parents, mainly mothers, would prefer to work if they could afford to do so.
Evidence shows that a 10% increase in the proportion of mothers working could raise £1.5bn in increased tax revenue and reduced in-work benefits.

WE believe that childcare is a key area for public investment, Government plans will leave untouched the gap in support between the end of paid parental leave at nine months and the child’s third birthday. They will also undermine the early education of children whose parents are not working.

Government-funded childcare should be available for all children from the end of paid parental leave at nine months. The first 15 hours a week – where the educational benefits of childcare for children are clearest – should be free, with the rest payable at £1 an hour by parents, as recommended by the Resolution Foundation’s Commission on Living Standards. Parents who work non-traditional hours and need more flexible childcare will have the option of a voucher alternative of equivalent value. For school age children, pre- and after-school clubs will also be available on school premises from 8am to 6pm.
Scottish Women's Convention says:
April 12, 2017 at 10:09 AM
There are a number of consequences, both in and out of the workplace, which women will face if they are expected to continue to undertake the majority of primary care for children. Not only will the gender pay gap continue, but fewer women will be able to return to their job at the same level they were at prior to maternity leave. They will not be afforded the same opportunities for training, development and progression that were in place before they had their baby.

While the vast majority of men with children are employed, more often than not on a full-time basis, the opposite is the case for women.

A workable framework of Shared Parental Leave (SPL) needs to be established, taking into account women’s barriers to participation in the labour market. The SPL system must be beneficial for both parents, allowing both mother and father to be able to share caring duties equally. Without this, the gender pay gap will continue and women will continue to be disadvantaged in the workplace.

Despite the Government’s assertion that the relatively new SPL framework is fair, there is a failure on their behalf to mention the extremely low uptake of the scheme over the past two years. It is clear that one of the main reasons for the gap in women’s and men’s employment is the unequal sharing of childcare. With the exception of mention of a focus of “understanding rights”, however, there is very little information as to how they intend to challenge societal and workplace attitudes relating to fathers staying at home to undertake caring responsibilities for children.

“Any strategy should, where possible and appropriate, encourage active participation of the father. It is vital, however, that this is done without any disadvantage to the mother and her opportunities for entering or re-entering the labour market.”

The Government has stated that SPL ensures simultaneous leave for both parents, if this is what is needed by the family. This does not, however, take into account the fact that many new mothers remain unlikely to make use of this policy in order to return to work in favour of their partner.

“The Government has to recognise that one of the main reasons as to why parents do not use shared leave is financial. In many cases, the father earns more than the mother and it is simply not viable for the family to lose out on a higher wage. There is often a fear on the part of the higher earner that they will ‘miss out’ on career progression if they undertake a significant period of leave following the birth of their child. There are also issues around the notion that caring for children continues to be seen as ‘women’s work’ and, as such, is undervalued by society as a whole.”

The majority of employers do not offer an enhanced rate of SPL for the second parent, meaning they are in receipt of the statutory minimum for the duration of their leave. This means it is, in many cases, more financially viable for the mother to take maternity leave and receive at least 6 weeks wages at 90% of her salary, then Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP), than for families to consider SPL.

The Government has also noted that one of the reasons for rejecting an increase in SPL in favour of using Maternity Leave and the pay that attracts is for health and safety reasons, as well as the mother being able to bond with her baby for at least the first six weeks. This, however, more often than not leads to the mother taking all of the leave as a matter of course, again due to the financial implications of sharing leave. Not only does this place the onus of childcare specifically on one parent, it also implies that caring for a newborn is the sole role of the mother.
Julia Trusler says:
April 11, 2017 at 10:11 PM
I am disappointed at the Government's response that there are to be no revisions to the pay arrangements for fathers on shared parental leave. I am a SPL parent myself and have taken great interest in this area. I am submitting two main comments to the Committee as further evidence.

1- Differing levels of uptake of SPL where enhanced pay is available to employees.

I have undertaken a small set of FOI requests of public bodies (which I am currently expanding, but can only provide what I have so far given the short notice for submissions). Although the sample is limited, I hope this is insightful.

For the four organisations that offered enhanced SPL pay, uptake rates for fathers with babies born in the first year of the SPL legislation (April 2015 - March 2016) were as follows:
MOD staff, 4.8%;
Home Office, 5.6%;
HMRC, 9.8%;
University of Cambridge, 10.7%.
The two organisations surveyed that did not offer enhanced pay had 0% uptake in year one - one a university (Bath) and one an NHS hospital (Barts).

(Uptake rates use the number of fathers taking paternity leave during the time period, finding the proportion of these who went on to take SPL within a year. I would be happy to provide the committee with further details or with future information on an expanded dataset.)

The public sector provides a useful set of data because of the opportunity of submitting FOIs to obtain this data. In the corporate sector, there are examples of high uptake from companies that offer enhanced SPL pay – for example Accenture which cites an uptake rate of 12%: https://www.pressreader.com/uk/london-evening-standard-west-end-final-b/20170406/282729111751194

2 - Affordability issues anecdotal evidence

I strongly believe that financial issues are a key determinant of SPL uptake. This is based on many conversations I have had with other new parents about their decisions not to take up SPL.

I have also asked a series of questions to five parents who took SPL and received employer enhanced pay – several commented that without the enhanced pay they would not have been able to afford to do SPL.
More research is urgently needed in this area to understand the factors underpinning decisions to take up or not take up SPL.

Finally I highlight what a hugely positive experience SPL can be for those who do it. I recently asked a set of SPL parents for six-word summaries of their SPL experience. Here are the replies (some with more than 6 words!)
- Fantastic, liberating, hard work!
- Fun, bonding, laughs, giggles, coffee, cake
- Unique, privileged, challenging, rewarding, tiring, bonding ... wouldn't have changed it for the world.
- It's been important for bonding with dad
- Very easy to arrange, and worthwhile for baby's dad to share the bonding experience of care-giving!
- Amazing family time
- First fortnight impossible. Remainder the best.

My belief is that it is an urgent matter for the Government to consider further the uptake of SPL and the degree to which this type of leave is accessible and affordable to parents.
Allyson Zimmermann says:
April 11, 2017 at 04:36 PM
A more effective policy on shared parental leave.
The following comes from Catalyst’s Working Parents Quick Take - http://www.catalyst.org/knowledge/working-parents
:
• Nearly half of all households in OECD countries include children
• Women do at least double the unpaid work as men
• Mothers and fathers equally report difficulties balancing work and family life
• Childcare benefits are an important driver in recruiting and retaining talent

Additional resources with useful data/facts:

• Catalyst’s Women in the Workforce: UK - http://www.catalyst.org/knowledge/women-workforce-uk
• Men and Equality - http://www.catalyst.org/men-and-equality

Chwarae Teg says:
April 11, 2017 at 02:03 PM
Chwarae Teg is a Welsh organisation working to build a Wales where women achieve and prosper.

We believe that until Shared Parental Leave is offered at the same rate as maternity leave, it’s likely to always be second choice.

Despite the introduction of Parental Leave, maternity leave pay is often ‘enhanced’ by employers while paternity and parental leave pay is offered at the statutory level. This discourages take up of parental leave by fathers. According to Working Families (2016), around half of employers have chosen to meet the statutory minimum requirements, while only a third match shared parental leave with enhanced maternity leave .

In 2015, Chwarae Teg’s Cross Party Group on Women in the Economy in the National Assembly for Wales heard from parents who had planned to take up the new scheme. The lack of an enhanced package for male employees was cited as a key barrier for parents who felt forced to opt to share less leave due to financial pressure.

There’s evidence of mandatory or part-time parental leave being used successfully in other countries to increase the take up of Shared Parental Leave.

In Sweden, a certain number of days of parental leave are reserved for each parent. As a consequence they’ve seen a significant rise in parental leave take up by fathers, with men taking 25% of all the days available to parents in 2014 (BBC, 2016). As of January 2016, 90 days are reserved for the father. Not only has this helped see an increase in the number of fathers caring for their children, it also helps mothers reintegrate into the labour market following maternity leave.

Part-time parental leave makes it easier to combine work and family life, and means that parents aren’t fully disconnected from the labour market. Part-time parental leave is standard in the Netherlands, and has recently been introduced in Germany with extra benefits and financial motivation if both parents take part time parental leave (European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (2015)). Take up of parental leave by fathers in the Netherlands increased from less than 10% in 2001 to 24% in 2013.
Mary-Ann Stephenson says:
April 11, 2017 at 11:55 AM
The Women’s Budget Group urges that an introduction of a “use it or lose it” scheme like that of Sweden’s government will encourage men to take time off and reduce the stigma against parents who stay at home to look after their children in the early stages of parenthood.

Take up of shared parental leave in the UK remains low for a combination of reasons including:

Many fathers do not qualify
Fathers are only entitled to shared parental leave if the mother of their child is entitled to maternity leave meaning that 40% of new fathers do not qualify for shared parental leave at all.

Low rates of pay
Only 25% of the lowest paid fathers took at least two weeks’ paternity leave, compared to half in the highest income group. Two thirds of those who didn’t take their full paternity leave said that this was because they couldn’t afford to.
https://www.tuc.org.uk/workplace-issues/work-life-balance/employment-rights/two-five-new-fathers-won%E2%80%99t-qualify-shared


Concern about attitude of employers
35% of fathers of children under 18 in employment believe that fathers who take time off to care for children are not supported. https://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Parents-Work-and-Care-2016.pdf

The UK is lagging behind other countries where fathers can take longer paternity leave at full, or higher rate of pay. International Research shows that when fathers take longer than two weeks’ paternity leave they are more involved with their children later in life, share care more equally and happier in their relationships. Outcomes for children improve as does mothers’ health and economic well-being. http://www.fatherhoodinstitute.org/2014/fi-research-summary-paternity-leave/

Huerta, M., Adema, W., Baxter, J., Han, W-J., Lausten, M., Lee, R. and Waldfogel, J., 2013. Fathers’ Leave, Fathers’ Involvement and Child Development: Are They Related? Evidence from Four OECD Countries. OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers, No. 140, OECD Publishing http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/docserver/download/5k4dlw9w6czq-en.pdf?expires=1491830351&id=id&accname=guest&checksum=5A59F5CFD673D9C69A64FD6C9816226F


In Sweden parents are entitled to 480 days of paid parental leave (240 each) until the child is 8 years old. 90 of the 240 days are reserved specifically for one parent and cannot be transferred to the other should one choose not to take it. This policy has been implemented to encourage employed dads to take at least 90 days of parental leave and encourage gender equality both in the household and in the workplace.
In Sweden it has been estimated that each additional month of parental leave taken by the father increases the mother’s earnings by 6.7%
Johannson, E-A., 2010. The effect of own and spousal parental leave on earnings. Working Paper 2010:4. Uppsala, Sweden: Institute of Labour Market Policy Evaluation