Adrienne Burgess

Modern Policies for Modern Families: Shared Parental Leave (Part 3)

Adrienne Burgess

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My Family Care asks Adrienne: With the introduction of Shared Parental Leave, there is much debate about whether men will in fact take up the offering or whether it will make a difference to women in the workplace. What effect do you think the change will have? In an ideal world, what needs to happen to change the face of parental leave?


Shared Parental Leave will not help women

The re-formulation of parental leave in the UK from the current Additional Paternity Leave entitlement introduced by Labour in 2010, to Shared Parental Leave proposed by the Coalition for 2015 will have no impact on uptake by fathers and therefore will have no impact on women in the workplace.

Work/family policy will remain a 'woman thing'; pregnancy discrimination will persist; workplace cultures that makes it difficult for mothers and fathers to combine employment with the care of very young children, will go unchallenged.

Ironically, the Coalition, in its 2011 consultation document 'Modern Workplaces' proposed a system that would have dragged the UK's parenting leave policy into the 21st century. There would have been a noticeable increase in leave-uptake by men in the short term.

In the longer term, with economic recovery and a couple of important embellishments that would not have required additional legislation, fathers' uptake of leave would have been substantial, and that would have made a difference to women in the workplace.

Sadly, the far-sighted proposals in Modern Workplaces were torpedoed. The resultant Shared Parental Leave system is a damp squib.

How will it differ from Additional Paternity Leave?

It barely differs from the current system of Additional Paternity Leave, of which take up has been 1:172 men. The only significant differences, neither of which will impact significantly on fathers' take-up, are that:

  • With Shared Parental Leave mothers can transfer unused Maternity Leave to their partner from two weeks rather than twenty weeks after the birth; and
  • Mothers who opt for Shared Parental Leave in place of Maternity Leave have slightly more flexibility in how they return to work.

Why will Shared Parental Leave make so little impact?

Firstly, by the government's own estimate, it will only be available to fewer than 30% of employed fathers. This is because, to quality, the father needs to be part of a couple who both meet specific employment and earning requirements.

Secondly, Shared Parental Leave is extraordinarily complicated and difficult to understand, and even more complicated and difficult to understand than Additional Paternity Leave.

And thirdly, again as with Additional Paternity Leave, there is to be no significant government budget behind its launch or dissemination, which means that very many fathers, mothers and employers won't even be aware of it, let alone understand it.

What would make a difference?

Nothing, within this new framework. Campaigners who want to make a difference to mothers and fathers in the workplace will need to return to the drawing board.

A system that would significantly increase uptake by fathers would need to:

  • Be an individual entitlement 'owned' by the men - Like his current two-week Paternity Leave, each father's entitlement would rest solely on his own employment and income record, with no reference to his partner's
  • Contain a 'use it or lose it' element - A period of leave that, if unused by the father, could not be transferred to the mother
  • Be paid at a reasonable level - Full wage-placement would not be necessary.

And then... Yes! This would make a difference to men and women in the workplace.

Adrienne Burgess, Joint CEO and Head of Research, The Fatherhood Institute

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