Shared Parental Leave

On the 5th of April 2015 new shared parental leave regulations came into force across the UK, which enables parents to share leave over the course of a year following the birth or adoption of a child. Parents can share up to 50 weeks of parental leave, by either taking time off together or separately.

Legislation that allows women and men to share childcare is undoubtedly a positive change. However, while more women are in paid work than ever before, women also continue to do the majority of unpaid caring. 63% of women identified as having the primary responsibility for daily childcare in comparison to only 23% of men.

In order to balance the disproportionate burden of care many women look for part-time work. However, part-time jobs are predominately found in low skilled, low paid roles, with few or no progression opportunities. The part-time pay gap (32% when comparing women’s part-time hourly pay with men’s full-time hourly pay) reflects the financial penalties women experience for working part-time, and currently stands at almost three times that of Scotland’s full-time pay gap. Re-entering the labour market, and career progression after maternity leave were identified as concerns by women in Scotland, with 22% of respondents to a recent study being worried about the impact maternity leave would have on their career.

Shared parental leave has the potential to positively impact on both women’s pay, and progression opportunities after having children. However under previous paternity entitlement 40% of UK fathers chose not to take any paternity leave at all and the take up of additional paternity leave has been extremely low with less than 1% taking advantage of it since it was introduced in 2011. These figures reinforce that it is not only a legislative but also a cultural barrier that must be tackled in order to achieve equality for women. When asked about shared parental leave 30% of men in Scotland thought that it would be good for their partner’s career or career progression, however only 16% thought it would be good for their own career.

There are also a large number of partners who will not be eligible for shared parental leave. This includes individuals whose partner's maternity cover is not enhanced, those disqualified due to length of service with their current employer or who are on temporary contracts. The leave is also very low paid which will impact on the number of partners who will want to take it.

Shared parental leave is undoubtedly a progressive step towards redressing the imbalance of childcare responsibilities. The take-up of it will be crucial in determining what impact it has on women’s equality.

You can find out more about Shared Parental Leave here.