Calls for changes to be made to shared parental leave provision
In April 2021, a group of organisations, including Maternity Action, the Fawcett Society, the National Childbirth Trust, the Royal College of Midwives, the TUC, the Women’s Budget Group and Working Families, joined together to publish an action plan setting out an agenda of policy reform relating to parental leave and pay.
The group has called for shared parental leave to be scrapped and replaced with a new system, which they say could form part of the government’s promised Employment Bill. The group is also putting pressure on ministers to publish a report following government consultation on reforming parental leave and pay. The report was due to be published in 2019, but the government has now said that it will be published ‘later this year’.
The shared parental leave scheme was introduced in 2015, but data from 2019/20 shows that take-up amongst eligible fathers was only 3.6%. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the gender economic inequalities in the UK. The shared parental leave and pay scheme was designed to encourage more equal parenting, but a combination of many fathers not qualifying, the complexity of transferring leave and the low rate of pay has led to low take up. This means that shared parental leave has had little impact on equal parenting.
Although the outcome of the government’s consultation has not yet been published, Maternity Action (supported by the other organisations) believes that any new system should include the following:
- Individual and non-transferable rights for each parent, that is, no sharing or transferring of leave.
- Significantly enhanced paid leave entitlement for fathers and other second parents, while retaining the existing rights of mothers.
- Reflecting the different purposes of maternity, paternity and parental leave.
In July 2019, the government pledged to set up a task force to look at pregnancy and maternity discrimination in the workplace. It was put on hold, due to COVID-19, but ministers have indicated that the government is still committed to establishing a task force and that the first meeting is due to be held soon. The organisations detailed above want the action plan formulated to be considered by this task force.
Reform of parental leave is key in reducing gender inequality. As Mary-Ann Stephenson, director of the Women’s Budget Group, said:
‘The point at which a couple become parents is often critical in establishing the pattern of who is responsible for childcare. Most couples want to share care more equally, but our current leave system reinforces traditional gender roles.’