The Shared Parental Leave (SPL) and Pay Regulations offer mothers the option to share 50 weeks of their maternity leave with their partner.
85,000 working couples in the UK are eligible for Shared Parental Leave from April 2015
(Department of Business, Skills and Innovation)
It’s hard to argue with the principal behind the legislation which provides recognition for dads and partners up and down the country who want to share in the responsibilities of caring for their newborns. Yet, the regulations, which came into effect earlier this year, have received a somewhat muted reception.
Over complicated and confusing
The legislation has been widely criticized as overcomplicated and confusing. Certainly, it’s not straightforward and it is difficult to summarize the legislation succinctly; the list of qualifiers for both parents is mind-boggling.
Businesses too must get to grips with the regulations, deciding how they will deal with all sorts of scenarios they have not yet encountered, for example, managing parents taking blocks of time rather than one long period of absence, or for a couple who work together, how to cover both employees being away at the same time on SPL.
There is also criticism that SPL is unaffordable for parents: financially, mothers are better off taking maternity leave than taking SPL, even if their employer only offers the statutory minimum maternity pay.
The SPL Regulations made big waves in the business world when they were formalized at the end of last year, forums and networks were buzzing with questions around their practical application and impact. But in practice, it’s questionable whether they really go far enough. The regulations only cover the first 12 months of a child’s life, when, traditionally, the child’s mother was entitled to take maternity leave. As most of us are aware, children are not really self-sufficient at 1 year old, so what happens next? Yes, the Government has increased the number of free hours’ nursery care for working families but it’s still not sufficient to cover both parents working full time. So after the first year of a child’s life, there is still the ‘mummy or daddy’ decision to make, unless you are very fortunate.
If we look to our Scandinavian counterparts, the UK still lags far behind countries such as Sweden, where employees benefit from the most generous childcare benefit in the world. It’s no coincidence that Sweden, according to Eurostat, also has the greatest number of women in senior management positions. The UK’s provision is no match for Sweden’s 16 months of parental leave, the majority of which is paid at 80% of salary and comes with tax breaks for working parents.
The UK still has a long way to go in order to make childcare arrangements equitable and it’s questionable whether such legislation has really made any inroads to changing business mindset in terms of fathers taking time off to look after their children. But it’s a start, a step in the right direction. Certainly it’s recognition of women’s earning power in the modern business world, despite the gender pay-gap, but that’s a different story for another day.