New data on shared parental leave suggests more to be done: CIPD

A year after the introduction of shared parental leave (SPL), new CIPD research concludes employers and government could do much more to encourage take up and support working parents.

Image of parents on pavement
The professional body for HR and people development is calling for a further “step-change” from government and employers in the support they offer employees with caring responsibilities.This is after its latest research, Labour Market Outlook: Focus on Working Parents, finds just 5 per cent of new fathers and 8 per cent of new mothers have opted to take up their legal right to SPL since its introduction in April 2015.While the figures are in line with government expectations, the CIPD is advising government and employers to raise their sights and work together at this time of economic uncertainty or risk losing valuable talent from the workforce.

Low SPL take up and lack of affordable childcare

The CIPD’s study of 1,050 HR professionals also found that just 21 per cent of organisations had received requests from male employees to take up SPL since April 2015. For two-thirds (67 per cent) of the organisations studied with mothers eligible for SPL, none have opted in.The CIPD cites a lack of affordable childcare for 0-2 years olds as a major factor behind the figures. Two-thirds of respondents (68 per cent) agreed that the participation rate of women with young children at work would improve to a large (30 per cent) or some extent (38 per cent) if the same level of free childcare available for three- and four-year-olds was available for children up to two years of age.

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Government childcare policies “ad hoc”

Rachel Suff, employment relations adviser at the CIPD, comments: “Shared parental leave was a milestone for gender equality when it was introduced last year. The intentions were right and on paper it gives new parents much more choice and flexibility about taking leave to look after a new baby, particularly if the mother is the higher earner and if dads want to play a bigger role in their child’s early life.“Encouraging pledges on childcare were made during the last general election but the approach to-date, however well-intentioned, has been to introduce ad hoc initiatives without considering their longer-term impact.“For example, the more time people spend out of the labour market, the harder it is for them to re-enter it, and the continued lack of provision for 0-2 year-olds means that an unintended consequence of this policy is that the choice to return to work just isn’t there for some new parents.”

Promotion of flexible working options lacking

The study further finds that a lack of promotion for flexible working schemes plays into the low take-up of SPL and, by extension, the stubborn gender pay gap.Just one in ten companies studied had a childcare policy that covered the range of support available to working parents, while only a third actively promotes flexible working options for employees with caring responsibilities.The report also found low awareness of government initiatives, such as the tax-free childcare scheme, which is to be introduced in early 2017.Commenting, Sarah Jackson OBE, chief executive of Working Families, a UK work-life balance charity, said:“For many working parents of children under three the only support with childcare costs is childcare vouchers. So it’s concerning that more than two thirds of employers are unaware of tax-free childcare, which will replace it.“The government should take action to raise awareness of the new scheme among employers – who can then tell working parents about it – without delay.”

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