Blog > Debates > A year into Shared Parental Leave

A year into Shared Parental Leave

What’s stopping parents from taking Shared Parental Leave?.

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Shared Parental Leave (SPL) celebrates its first anniversary. On this occasion, totaljobs ran a survey to understand how this parental right has been welcomed by employees in the UK, and how it has been used over the past 12 months.

Key findings from the survey results can be found in an infographic. Read comments from employees, parents and expectant parents, in our full report.

Emma Jacobs, columnist at the Financial Times, shares her insights on the survey results in an exclusive article.


A year on from the introduction of Shared Parental Leave, a policy announced amid much fanfare by the coalition government, it appears to have been a damp squib. Government figures won’t be published until 2018.

But the best survey to date showed that at 6 months less than 2 per cent of fathers has taken the opportunity to become more involved in their baby’s life by sharing up to 50 weeks off work in the year after the child’s arrival. The government’s prediction was that the full year would be up to 8 per cent.

This survey of 628 people who were either expecting or hoping to have children reveals some of the reasons for such poor take-up. A key issue is the lack of awareness of SPL. As one survey respondent put it there “needs to be encouragement with more publicity and greater awareness in the workplace”.

Only 33 per cent of women knew about SPL, compared to 41 per cent of men. Moreover 65 per cent of men and women did not know if their employer offered enhanced pay and 74 per cent did not receive information about SPL or support from their human resources department.

Certainly if expectant parents do not know their rights, they are hardly likely to take them. There appears to be confusion among human resources directors and anxiety that couples will take staggered chunks of time between them that will be hard to co-ordinate and increase the workload for other employees.

I am sympathetic. To a point. Small companies do find interruptions hard to cover but having a baby is somewhat easier to plan for than a heart attack. No one should be indispensable and employers must plan for interruptions to business.

Other issues are the lack of affordability – few companies offer men enhanced pay, which some lawyers anticipate might result in fathers pursuing sex discrimination cases against their employer.

Yet there is much optimism about the policy. Among couples interviewed there was a strong feeling that SPL will help reduce gender inequality in the workplace (64 per cent of men, 70 per cent of women).

And that it will also strengthen the role of fathers in families (76 per cent of men, 84 per cent of women). As one respondent put it:

One of the main benefits of SPL is that it allows new parents to ignore traditional gender roles, and if widely used I believe it would help reduce inequality between men and women in the workplace.

Spending time with newborn babies has been shown to help forge bonds with their fathers; it also brings home the amount of work they can be.

The hope is that this experience will lead them to configure their working hours around children, or put pressure on employers to devise flexible solutions for their staff to juggle work and family commitments.

Linda Haas, the US sociologist who has researched fathers, particularly in Sweden, notes that good employers will monitor the quality of work for part-time employees so that the calibre of projects does not go down once they reduce their hours.

In the UK, the pay gap has closed between men and women in their 20s and 30s. For many, it widens after the arrival of children, hence the term, “motherhood penalty”, as women reduce their hours to look after their kids or become overlooked in the workplace, deemed to be on the dreaded “mummy track”.

As one respondent to the survey notes, “I think parents’ perceptions need to change. It doesn’t have to be the mother that stays at home, and this doesn’t always make financial sense, as fathers don’t necessarily earn more these days.

One way of encouraging men to take parental leave is the “daddy quota” introduced in Sweden in 1995. This period of paid leave set aside exclusively for dads had the desired effect.

Today Swedish fathers, dubbed the “latte papas” take one-quarter of all parental leave and this year the daddy quota was bumped up to 90 days.

Dr Jana Javornik Skrbinsek, a sociologist at the University of East London, sees SPL as being characteristically light-touch.

The UK has a tradition of being very stubborn about the state interfering in family life. In other countries, the state’s role in family life is more intense.” In its current format, the employer is key. “When so much is left to the employer it can be a lottery”, she says.

Recently the Women and Equalities Select Committee produced a report on the gender pay gap, highlighting the low take-up by men of SPL. One of its recommendations is three months of non-transferable, well-paid leave for fathers. Perhaps Britain will become a nation of “latte papas” after all?

Have you used your right to Shared Parental Leave or consider using it? Tell us about your experience in the comments.

A year into Shared Parental Leave in the UK infographic

Add this infographic to your website by copying and pasting the following embed code:

See the full survey results:

Read the report

More on workplace equality:

85% think that families cannot afford Shared Parental Leave: The Fawcett Society, the Fatherhood Institute and Mum+Business comment on the totaljobs survey results.

Women typically expect to be paid £6,562 less than men: Totaljobs’ 2016 Gender Pay Gap report shines a light on salary expectations, pay rises and bonuses.

Does the gender pay gap exist before graduates enter the workplace? Totaljobs’ research reveals that female graduates apply for jobs whose average salary is £2,000 lower than their male peers.

“The next time you look for a job, add £6,500 to your ambitions.” Columnist Lucy Mangan dives into totaljobs’ gender pay gap research.

What’s it like to be a trans employee? Paris Lees on workplace trans discrimination: There’s a lot of work to do.

Why it’s still not ‘Mission Accomplished’ for LGBT workers: Award-winning journalist Matthew Todd gives his verdict on the current situation facing LGBT employees.

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(All comments have to be approved before they appear)

  1. @PaternityLeaver Thursday, 7 Apr, 2016 at 1:31 pm

    This is an interesting study, and wish the sample had been wider. I’d also like to know of the 27 respondents (31.4%) of the 86 respondents who said they had taken up SPL, how many of them were male/female.

    • Mimouna Mahdaoui Thursday, 7 Apr, 2016 at 2:47 pm

      Hello! Thank you for your comment.
      Our data shows that of the 86 respondents who had a child in the past 12 months, 52 were men, 34 women.
      Of these, 35% (18) of men used their right to SPL, and 26% (9) of women.
      We hope that helps,
      Kind regards,

      • Zoe Trevascus Saturday, 9 Apr, 2016 at 5:32 pm

        Considering it has been reported only 1% of the population have taken advantage of Shared Parental Leave, your figures are not reflective- did you survey a particular income group? Were they all first time parents? I firmly believe until we have Equal Pay this legislation cannot be effective.

        • Mimouna Mahdaoui Monday, 11 Apr, 2016 at 9:53 am

          Hi Zoe,

          The 1% figure that was widely reported referred to all male employees based on a survey to 200 employers. This does not reflect the real uptake from employed and eligible fathers in the past year, who took SPL.

          Our survey to employees shows that 31.4% of eligible parents have used their rights to SPL since its introduction (35% of all men who had a child in the past year). Although this is based on a small sample, it’s a number that has been found in other reports published recently.

          You can find more details on the report.

          Hope this helps,


  2. Rose Saturday, 9 Apr, 2016 at 1:51 pm

    I am amazed that this is in place and that I don’t know about it. I work for Child Maintenance Options, an information service for people who need to know about these very issues.

    • Mimouna Mahdaoui Monday, 11 Apr, 2016 at 9:54 am

      Hi Rose,

      Thank you for your comment. We agree that there’s a lot to do to raise awareness on the right and hopefully this will have an impact on the uptake.

  3. Abi Martin Saturday, 9 Apr, 2016 at 11:24 pm

    SPL is great, when it becomes widely known.
    More flexible working arrangements being offered to parents of primary school age children would be far more beneficial though. How many full-time working parents of 4-11 year olds can regularly leave work at 2.30pm every day to do the school pick-up at 3.30pm (assuming a 45 minute commute)?
    It’s simply impossible, you’re just considered part-time and not serious about your career.
    Working from home is a luxury of freelancers or the most senior of managers or owner/managers.

    • Mimouna Mahdaoui Monday, 11 Apr, 2016 at 9:58 am

      Hi Abi,

      Thank you for your comment.
      Our survey respondents agree and mentioned that they want to be present in early years, not just the first one. Flexible working could help achieve that.

      There’s also a lot to do to raise awareness and change perceptions around parental leave in general, as reflected in their replies.

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