Should Shared Parental Leave be changed?

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There are increasing calls for the government to change the existing Shared Parental Leave policy and replace it with a new system similar to the one in place in Sweden with paid leave for both parents.

What is Shared Parental Leave?

Shared Parental Leave (“SPL”) is a type of leave that parents may be entitled to if they have had a baby or adopted a child. In addition to sharing up to 52 weeks of leave, qualifying parents could also claim up to 39 weeks of Statutory Shared Parental Pay (“ShPP”).

When SPL was introduced in the UK by the Children and Families Act 2014, its intention was to offer more flexibility to parents in relation to early childcare and encourage couples to shares responsibilities for caring for a child more evenly. Apart from the initial period of mandatory leave which a mother must take (the first two weeks after childbirth), the remaining 50 weeks of leave can be shared by the parents in whichever way they see fit.

Sadly though, despite the government’s attempt to tackle gender inequality and childcare, uptake of SPL has remained low with as little as 2% of parents opting to take it. But why has the policy been so unsuccessful?

1. Challenging process and qualification

Parents are eligible to SPL subject to satisfying a number of conditions:

  • both parents must share responsibility for the child at birth
  • both parents must meet the work and pay criteria, which differs depending on which parent wants to take SPL. If both parents want to share the SPL and ShPP, they must both earn on average £120 or more a week, they must be employees and not workers, and they must have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the child’s due date, or 26 weeks by the time the child is placed with its family for adoptive parents. If one parent wants to take the SPL and ShPP, then one parent must satisfy the conditions above and the other must demonstrate that during the 66 weeks before the child’s due date or the date the child is placed with its family, they worked for at least 26 weeks and earned at least £390 in total across any 13 of the 66 weeks.

Whilst the conditions are relatively simple in practice, the complexity of the rules puts employees off making use of the scheme. More significantly, the conditions exclude self-employed parents.

2. Financial cost

ShPP is paid at a maximum rate of £157.97 a week, which is less than half of the living wage of an adult working full time. Similarly, in order for parents to take SPL, some parents will face giving up enhanced maternity or adoption pay, which is unlikely to be matched by the benefits each parent gets under the SPL policy. Unsurprisingly, the disproportionate cost to parents taking SPL has been a prominent barrier to the scheme.

3. Practical difficulties for women

SPL is only available to parents in the first year after a child is born, or for adoptive parents, after a child is placed with its family, which poses a number of practical difficulties for many mothers, such as breastfeeding complications and health concerns after birth. For this reason, many mothers don’t want to share their maternity leave and go back to work, and therefore the co-parent cannot take SPL.

What should a new Shared Parental Leave policy look like?

There are growing calls for the UK SPL policy should mirror a scheme run in Sweden, which has the highest rate of paternal leave. In Sweden, both parents are given 240 days paid leave at approximately 80% of their salary and 90 of those days are reserved exclusively for each parent and are non-transferable. Moreover, in Sweden parents have up to eight years to claim that leave, which gives parents more flexibility in choosing when to take their leave.

Speak to our Employment Law specialists today

If you have any questions about Shared Parental Leave, Maternity or Paternity Leave, get in contact with our specialist Employment Law team through this website or by calling 0330 404 0778.

Our partners at Ashtons HR Consulting are also on hand to assist you.


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