Exclusive: Less than 9,000 parents took up Shared Parental Leave last year
Shared Parental Leave (SPL) was introduced in April 2015 allowing mothers and fathers the chance to share childcare and pay in their baby’s first year.
Parents can share up to 50 weeks of leave (following the statutory two weeks’ maternity and paternity leave) and up to 37 weeks’ pay (Statutory Shared Parental Pay) which currently stands at £140.98 per week or 90% of your average weekly earnings, whichever is lower.
The scheme allows parents to take up to six months off work at the same time or the leave can be staggered so that one parents is always at home with the baby in the first year. Up to three separate SPL blocks can be booked giving parents flexibility around work and childcare.
As with many government incentives, there are certain criteria you both need to fulfil in order to be eligible for SPL and pay:
- Continuity of employment test: birth parents must have been continuously employed by the same employer for around 40 weeks – ie from around the time you or your partner became pregnant.
- Weekly earnings test: a parents who wishes to claim Statutory Shared Parental Pay must have had average gross weekly earnings of £113 in 2017/18 over an eight-week period.
- Work and earnings test: for a parent to take SPL and/or Statutory Shared Parental Pay (ShPP) they must meet the ‘continuity of employment test’ and the child’s other parent must meet the ‘work and earnings test’ – being employed and/or self-employed for at least 26 weeks in the 66 week period leading up to the expected week of childbirth. The earnings must also have been at least £30 a week on average (£390 in total).
However, the government has revealed that while 285,000 couples qualify for SPL every year, the take up could be as low as 2%.
Exclusive figures obtained by YourMoney.com via a Freedom of Information request to the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) revealed that in 2016/17, employers claimed Statutory Shared Parental Pay in respect of around 8,700 parents.
In 2015/16 HM Revenue & Customs received claims for a total of around 6,200 parents for either the Statutory Shared Parental Pay or Statutory Additional Paternity Pay (HMRC records don’t distinguish between the two).
Given the low take-up, BEIS has now launched a £1.5m ‘Share the Joy’ advertising campaign to raise awareness of the scheme. It also comes as BEIS research found 49% of people have heard of SPL but only 8% claim to know a lot about the policy.
‘Rewarding but challenging’
Mark and Emma Smith’s baby boy was born in July 2015, just three months after SPL was introduced. The 43-year-old managing director at consultancy firm Accenture, said he took six and a half months SPL to look after baby Louis.
“For us, having a family was a joint endeavour. It wasn’t ‘you’re the mum, you spend a year at home looking after and supporting our child’. I was very lucky as within a month of the change in law, my company offered SPL so I was one of the first people to take up the scheme.
“We spoke about SPL and what an amazing opportunity it would be as I would receive 30 weeks full pay and it would benefit Emma too. She’s been running a small marketing company for 10 years and it was important for her to keep a hand in her work as things move so quickly – from tech to client expectations.
“The best thing about SPL is that parents are given a choice. Whether the take up is 2%, 10% or 30% – this almost misses the point.
“Looking after Louis was brilliant, challenging and eye-opening. The first three to four months were pretty tough – Emma took up SPL early on then we had some joint time looking after him then I was on my own. It was incredibly rewarding and I have a bond with my son which is fantastic. I understand just how difficult it is but it worked really well for us.
“People’s view varied by gender and age and I had all sorts of comments from ‘that’s absolutely amazing’ to ‘how can a man do that?’
“I’m reasonably confident but when going to the gym or music classes with Louis I was often the only male – we need more men to do this too.
“Society is changing but there are still some stereotypes. Hopefully the government’s campaign will encourage other people to take up the flexible working programme too”.
Shared Parental Leave Extension Bill
Tracy Brabin, Labour MP for Batley and Spen and shadow education minister, will later this month present a Bill to Parliament to allow both freelancers and self-employed to access to SPL. The MP who has been a freelancer for 30 years said the Shared Parental Leave Extension Bill could mean an additional 44,000 come under the scope of the flexible work and childcare benefit scheme.
“This could have a massive impact for people and in a way, it’s free for the Treasury. If a woman wants to go back to work, her partner could take that maternity pay.
“If we’re going to close the gender pay gap we have to get more men involved in family life. 15% of the population is self-employed but this number is only going to get bigger.
“The 2% SPL take-up rate is not good enough especially when 50%of the public don’t know about it. I think stigma and complexity are factors affecting the take-up. Small businesses aren’t training line managers, they don’t know this is coming down the track and they will struggle when parents request it.
“With Brexit, we need to ensure the UK is fit for the future and with the rise of the self-employed we need to be a progressive country where men can also take parental leave without the risk of any down sides to their career or progression.”
Brabin said the Bill has already garnered cross-party support and it will be introduced to Parliament on 21 February.