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08 Aug 2016

Small minority of couples taking up shared parental leave

A lower-than-expected number of families are making use of new rights that allow mothers and fathers to share leave from work after the birth of a new child, the Telegraph reports.

According to research by commercial law firm EMW, which used official data, just 3,000 couples took up the new Shared Parental Leave rights during the first three months of 2016. By comparison, some 155,000 mothers took traditional maternity leave and 52,000 fathers took standard paternity leave during this time.

Assuming that maternity leave figures are representative of the number of new babies born during this period, this suggests that just 2% of couples are taking up the new rights – supposedly a flagship policy of the Coalition government.

The new rules dictate that following the birth of their child, couples whose babies were born after April 1 2015 were entitled to share up to a year of parental leave between them. While mothers must still take the compulsory two weeks´ leave to help them recover, the rest of the time can be divided between both parents, perhaps even overlapping.

The parent taking the leave is paid 90% of their normal salary for the first six weeks after birth (including the compulsory fortnight), then a statutory £140 per week is paid for the following 33 weeks.

Those in favour of the system argue that this option will help reduce the disruption to women´s careers when starting a family, and shake off the long-held view that it is solely the mother´s duty to stay at home.

However, due to the fact that Shared Parental Leave is fixed to a statutory rate – as opposed to maternity leave, which can be paid above the legal minimum - many families have calculated that they could be hundreds of pounds worse off with the shared option.

This goes some way to explaining the fact that just 2% of eligible fathers are taking up the offer – the very bottom margin of the government´s prediction in 2013 that between 2-8% of fathers would choose to share leave with their partner.

Despite low demand, a spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy reminded the publication that the figures are only based on three months. Furthermore, they noted that, “There are many factors that affect a couple´s decision on how childcare should be managed and by whom.”

Copyright M2 Bespoke 2016

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