Shared Parental Leave slow to take off

Very few men have taken advantage of Shared Parental Leave since it was introduced a year ago, according to new research.

Shared Parental Leave (SPL) allows couples to share leave around the arrival of a new addition to their family. It is designed to get women get back into the workplace quicker and to give men the chance to care full-time for their new baby or adopted child in the crucial first year.

However, a survey by My Family Care in conjunction with the Women's Business Council has found that just 1% of all men (not just those that are eligible) have so far taken up the opportunity to share their partner's parental leave.

The poll of more than 1,000 parents and 200 businesses has found the main barriers are financial affordability, lack of awareness and unwillingness from women to share their maternity leave. Indeed, 55% of women say they wouldn't want to share their maternity leave, although 48% of women said they wanted to have a shorter time off for career purposes.

The majority of men and women (80%) agreed that a decision to share leave would be dependent on their finances and their employer's enhancement of SPL.

However, many men are interested in taking SPL in the future according to the research, with 63% of men who already have young children, and are considering having more, saying it was likely they would choose to take SPL.

Ben Black, director of My Family Care, said: "It is still very early days for Shared Parental Leave. While take-up is low, its introduction was a fantastic step forward when it comes to equality in the workplace. The key thing for businesses is to help their employees combine work and family… More and more we're going to hear fantastic stories of fathers, at senior levels, who have taken Shared Parental Leave, and once these stories filter through, and the notion of sharing leave in this way becomes 'normal', then it will be accepted practice."

Meanwhile, a survey of 100 employers by law firm Bates Wells Braithwaite (BWB) has found that 65% of employers have had no SPL requests at all and 30% have had only one or two requests.

BWB says "unclear and over-complicated rules may be preventing organisations from creating effective policies and communicating these to employees"; its survey shows that 38% of respondents reported a "poor" or "very poor" understanding of SPL.

Paul Seath, employment lawyer at BWB, said: "Whilst the introduction of Shared Parental Leave has been a welcome step, the complexity of the rules means that, in reality, little has changed for gender equality in the workplace or for working parents."

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