Belfast Telegraph

MPs question shared parental leave policy amid low take-up by fathers

MPs have raised concerns about the number of fathers not taking up shared parental leave because they could not afford to - or did not know they could.

Evidence to the Women and Equalities Committee showed that just over half of fathers said they would take advantage of the opportunity to share parental leave.

Of those who would not, almost a third said it was because they could not afford to, while a quarter did not know about the right, which was introduced in 2015 to give parents more flexibility around caring for their first child in the first year.

The committee said some fathers cited the low take-up and questioned whether the policy was working.

One said: "I would dearly love to improve my work/life balance and spend more time raising my children and lightening the load from my exhausted wife, who has a lowly paid night-time supermarket job because she had to give up her better paid day job at the time of having children.

"Shared parental leave appeared pointless to us (and probably most relationships) post-birth because I'm the breadwinner and it makes no financial sense, as we struggle financially already."

Maria Miller, who chairs the committee, said: "Shared parental leave (SPL) has been a key family-friendly policy of this Government and its introduction two years ago was very welcome.

"However, as the written evidence to our inquiry shows, fathers are questioning whether it works for them in practice, and that is a concern. Whether it be the financial implications of taking up SPL or the attitudes and culture of employers, this policy may not be having the intended effect."

The charity Working Families said its survey of 300 fathers showed the main reasons for taking up shared leave were to spend time bonding with their new child and to share care with their partner.

Chief executive Sarah Jackson said: "F amilies are unlikely to make use of SPL unless it makes financial sense for them to do so.

"The Government should consider equalising statutory maternity pay and shared parental pay to prevent SPL being a second-class option and encourage more fathers to use it.

"Employers going beyond the minimum pay for SPL would also make it a more realistic option for more families."

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "Shared parental leave has helped some dads get more involved with their new babies, but take-up has been very low and, without better rights to well-paid leave, many new parents will continue to miss out on spending time with their children.

"If the Government is serious about men being more involved after their child is born then they should increase statutory paternity pay and make shared parental leave more flexible."

A Business Department spokesman said: "Shared Parental Leave is provided to help mothers who want to return to work share childcare responsibilities with the father or their partner.

"There are many factors that affect a couple's decision on how childcare should be managed and by whom and Shared Parental Leave gives parents extra flexibility when making these important decisions.

"This scheme is still in its infancy and we will evaluate its impact in 2018."