Government urged to adopt standalone baby leave for men as cultural shift fails to materialise
Shared Parental Leave (SPL) basically allows a mother to end her maternity (or adoption) leave early and share the remaining leave with the other parent rather than losing it which is what would otherwise happen.It has to be said however that the SPL scheme is complicated in terms of establishing eligibility and giving notice to employers. This is perhaps one reason why it hasn’t been very popular with parents. The overwhelming reason however has to be that in the case of most families, the higher earner is still usually the father meaning that if he wishes to take SPL the family unit will have to take a bigger hit in income than if mum stayed on maternity leave. It generally therefore only works for families where both parents earn a relatively low income or mother is the main breadwinner in which case, provided she is willing to return to work early, it is economically better if dad stays at home with the child.Consequently, if the situation is to change the amount of statutory shared parental pay needs to be increased substantially which is unlikely. Alternatively the gender pay gap issue needs to be tackled better given that as long as fathers are statistically higher paid than mothers, only a few families are willing or able to afford a drop in salary which could otherwise be easily mitigated by mum simply staying off and using all of her maternity leave.It is also worthwhile noting that because SPL only applies to 50 of the 52 weeks maternity leave (the first 2 weeks are compulsory for mother) the flexibility families crave as children get older and attend school or nursery is not addressed under the SPL scheme. Instead this involves employers recognising the benefits of flexible working such as working remotely or flexi hours working. At the moment it isn’t very difficult in most cases for employers to reject a request for flexible working on one of the several statutory grounds. Furthermore, the penalties for getting it wrong are not that great unless it is a request by mum where there is sometimes the risk of an indirect sex discrimination complaint where for example they want to return on reduced hours but the employer argues the job has to be performed full time.If the situation is to change, a lot needs to be done beyond the current recommendations of the Women and Equalities Committee. One important step would be to win over the support of employer organisations such as the CBI in the hope that they advocate the benefits of flexible working to employers.