Earlier this week, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy revealed that as little as around 2% of eligible couples are taking up their entitlement to Shared Parental Leave (SPL). At the same time, the government announced that it will spend £1.5 million on a campaign drive which will be known as “Share the Joy”. The campaign will focus on raising the profile of SPL with a lack of awareness of SPL amongst eligible parents having been identified as a significant factor in the particularly low levels of up-take.
SPL and the accompanying Statutory Shared Parental Pay (SSPP) were introduced in 2015 with the aim of providing eligible parents with more flexibility in respect of childcare arrangements and to allow mothers to return to work earlier should they wish and to convert any remaining leave into shared leave. The SPL scheme allows eligible parents to share up to 50 weeks of leave, with parents choosing whether to take the leave at the same time or at different times. While on SPL, parents are entitled to share up to 37 weeks of SSPP, which is currently paid at £140.98 per week.
Research conducted last year by Working Families, a charity which aims to promote work-life balance, suggested that 25% of fathers were unaware of SPL. This begs the question, that if 75% of fathers are aware of SPL, why are take up rates by eligible parents so low and what are the barriers? One possible explanation is that employers may not be proactively supporting parents when it comes to promoting SPL, accommodating flexible childcare arrangements and enhancing SSPP. Announcing the Share the Joy campaign, business minister Andrew Griffiths highlighted that these are all factors which could lead to “happier, more loyal and more productive workforces”.
We should expect to see SPL being more widely advertised in the coming months through the government campaign, although it remains to be seen if this alone will improve the levels of up-take or if wider reforms are necessary. In the meantime employers should consider reminding expecting parents of their entitlement under SPL and ensuring that team leaders and managers are briefed on dealing with SPL requests and supporting those employees who wish to take it.