Shared parental leave (SPL) was introduced in April 2015 and was designed to encourage parents to share family leave and improve gender equality in the workplace. It was estimated that almost 285,000 couples would be eligible for SPL, however studies conducted over the past year have found that only 0.5 – 2% of eligible fathers are taking up their right to share leave with a partner. A further survey has shown that 60% of HR Directors have received few or no requests for SPL.

So why has SPL take-up been lower than expected?

Financial considerations

The statutory minimum pay for SPL is currently £139.58 per week or 90% of average earnings if less than the statutory rate. A number of employers provide employees with enhanced maternity or adoption pay however few employers have enhanced shared parental pay in the same way. Employees may therefore be reluctant to give up their enhanced rights in relation to maternity leave, which are more financially advantageous in comparison to SPL. Take-up is likely to be higher in those organisations that do offer pay above the statutory minimum; in a study carried out by Working Families 32% of companies surveyed had matched SPL to existing enhanced maternity provision.

Cultural attitudes

46% of employers surveyed by Working Families identified cultural attitudes as a barrier to SPL take-up. Whilst the SPL provisions were introduced in an attempt to change attitudes to the allocation of childcare responsibilities, there still appears to be an ongoing resistance by fathers to take longer periods of leave. There also seems to be a “taboo” associated with men taking time off to care for their children and survey comments suggest that female employees do not necessarily want to give up or share their maternity leave with their partner.

Complexity of taking the leave

The SPL provisions have attracted wide spread criticism for being too complex and confusing for both employers and employees to use. Many HR departments have struggled with the logistics and complicated paperwork involved in SPL applications. Under the SPL provisions, there are a number of ways that leave can be allocated between partners, leaving HR to deal with complex and varied agreements. As a result, companies have perhaps not “advertised” the right to its employees.

What is the future for shared parental leave?

Despite the low take-up to date, SPL has only been in place for a year so there is still time for the number of parents who take SPL to increase in the future. Many employers were waiting to assess their SPL policy’s financial impact before implementing enhanced SPL payments. It is unlikely that, unless employers do enhance their SPL pay, there will be a significant increase in uptake. The Government are also set to extend SPL to grandparents from 2018. Given that SPL was introduced to encourage a shift in cultural perceptions in parents sharing leave to care for children, the extension to grandparents only a few years after its introduction could act as a barrier to this cultural change for fathers.