Parental leave: sharing the load

05 July 2018

Julia Waltham of Working Families, the UK’s leading work-life balance organisation, takes us through Shared Parental Leave, and how you can help improve uptake.

Shared Parental Leave (SPL) is a scheme that allows mothers (or adopters) to shorten their maternity leave and share it with their partner in their child’s first year of life. It can be taken by both parents at the same time or separately, and was introduced in 2015 to bring greater gender equality into the workplace, as well as allowing both parents to take time out from their jobs to bond with their children.

According to the UK government, 285,000 couples each year qualify for it. However, figures obtained from HMRC suggest that in 2016-17 only 8700 parents used the scheme (EMW LLP, 2017). While we should 
bear in mind that HMRC figures may not have captured parents using SPL during the last three months of leave (which is unpaid), this is still only around 3% – at very much the lower end of the government’s 2013 estimated take-up range, which was between 2% and 8% of eligible fathers (Department for Business Innovation and Skills, 2013).


SPL allows parents to take time out from their jobs to bond with their children

Why is uptake so low?

Firstly and most importantly, there are financial considerations. Evidence from other countries (Blum et al, 2017) say fathers need well paid leave. SPL is paid currently at £145.18 per week, which is the equivalent to less than a quarter of men’s median full-time weekly earnings. Most employers do not yet enhance SPL, meaning that many couples are likely to be financially worse off if they choose to use it. It’s also quite complicated, despite the government’s best efforts. Its technical guidance is 66 pages long which may explain why so few organisations actively promote it. Recent research shows that parents often lack a sound understanding of the eligibility rules and are not aware that it is a legal entitlement for eligible parents (Behavioural Insights Team, 2018). To help with uptake, the government has recently run a campaign called ‘Share the joy’, aimed at eligible parents and increasing their awareness of the scheme.


Eligibility issues

But the biggest barrier for many fathers is that they are not even eligible for SPL. Analysis has showed that 40% of working fathers with a child aged under one do not qualify for SPL because their partner is not in paid work (fathers are only entitled to SPL if the mother of their child is entitled to maternity pay), or because the couple do not meet the requirement of being with the same employer for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the due date or adoption match (TUC, 2015).

In the current workplace, staying in the same job for years is increasingly rare, and more and more parents are choosing to become (or, in far too many instances, being forced to become) self-employed. Current eligibility criteria around length of service and employment status are outdated. We’re calling for SPL to be made a ‘day one right’ and for the scheme to be extended to parents who are both self-employed. You can read more about the changes we’d like to see to the scheme in our position paper Increase the joy (bit.ly/WF_increase_the_joy).


Workplace culture

We also think workplace culture is a huge barrier to take-up, as acknowledged by employers in our 2016 briefing on their perspective on the scheme (bit.ly/WF_parental_leave). This is evidenced by the fact that 34% of parents fake illness to meet family obligations, rising to 40% of fathers; and 47% would not be confident asking their employer about boundaries around work (Working Families, 2018).

Creating supportive workplace cultures that don’t just promote but encourage the use of schemes such as SPL are crucial to their success. Until work-life balance is the ‘new normal’, these rights won’t flourish, and the change intended to parents’ lives won’t be borne out.  


How you can help

  • Tell pregnant women about the scheme, particularly the benefits of SPL. For women, it may make returning to work easier (as leave can be interspersed with periods of work).
  • Tell prospective fathers about the scheme. For them, this leave is a special opportunity to bond with their baby, step back from their work and come back with a new perspective.
  • Encourage them to take a look at our SPL resources – especially our parent videos at bit.ly/WF_shared_leave_videos and advice and information pages at bit.ly/WF_shared_leave_info

Julia Waltham is head of policy and campaigns at Working Families, where she leads on policy responses to issues affecting families and work, and its influencing activity. 


Time to reflect

Do the barriers to SPL sound about right from your experiences of speaking to families? Are there any others? What’s the key thing you could do to help raise awareness among your colleagues and families? Join the debate on Twitter @CommPrac using #SharedLeave


Shared Parental Leave in a nutshell

  • The scheme allows mothers (or adopters) to shorten their maternity leave and share it with their partner to care for children in their first year; it can be taken by both parents at the same time or separately.
  • If you are self-employed, you can enable your partner to take SPL if s/he is employed and qualifies. You can find more information about eligibility at bit.ly/WF_shared_leave
  • The maximum amount of leave that can be shared between parents is 50 weeks.
  • Shared Parental Pay is the same as the flat rate for statutory maternity pay and maternity allowance. It is currently £145.18 a week, or 90% of an employee’s average weekly earnings, whichever is lower.



  • Our website offers detailed and practical advice on employment law. Download our free maternity rights timeline at bit.ly/WF_maternity_rights
  • Call our parents and carers helpline on 0300 012 0312.Opening times are listed at bit.ly/WF_helpline
  • Equality and family rights, your guide by Unite outlines key rights at work, including SPL. See bit.ly/Unite_family_rights

Picture Credit | iStock



Behavioural Insights Team. (2018) Return to work: parental decision making. See: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/705898/Return_to_work-parental_decision_making.pdf (accessed 20 June 2018).

EMW LLP. (2017) Just 8,700 new parents claimed shared parental leave in the last year. See: www.emwllp.com/latest/claimed-shared-parental/ (accessed 20 June 2018)

Department for Business Innovation and Skills. (2013) Modern workplaces: shared parental leave and pay administration consultation – impact assessment. February 2013. See: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/110692/13-651-modern-workplaces-shared-parental-leave-and-pay-impact-assessment2.pdf (accessed 21 June 2018).

Blum S, Koslowski A, Moss P. (2017) International review of leave policies and research 2017. See: http://www.leavenetwork.org/fileadmin/Leavenetwork/Annual_reviews/2017_Leave_Review_2017_final2.pdf (accessed 21 June 2018).

TUC. (2015) ‘The fathers who are missing out on better leave and pay right’. See: https://touchstoneblog.org.uk/2015/02/fathers-who-are-missing-out-on-better-leave-and-pay-rights (accessed 20 June 2018)

Working Families. (2018) Modern families index 2018: how employers can support the UK’s working families. See: www.workingfamilies.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/UK_MFI_2018_Employers_Report_A4_FINAL-1.pdf (accessed 20 June 2018)

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