The success of the new Shared Parental Leave (SPL) regulations will depend however on a change in workplace culture and making fathers feel more confident in taking time off for childcare, a number of recent studies suggest.
From April 3, 2015, parents will be able to share leave allowing both mum and dad to care for their child at the same time. Up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay can be shared, following the initial two week period of maternity care.
A welcome abandonment of the old maternity system, which stereotypically placed childcare responsibilities heavily on the shoulders of mothers, UK ministers hope the reform marks a new era of work/life flexibility comparable to the Nordic nations.
Culture Needs to Change
Whitehall expects the new regulations to help up to 285,000 couples in the UK, but the success of the changes will be determined by high take-up rates from dads. For this to happen, employers will have a vital role to play in supporting fathers with fair and manageable workloads.
[pullquote]“What we need is employers en masse to understand how SPL could transform their business, and buy in to the cultural shift. Will we ever get to the point where all future dads and mums feel that they could afford to take the leave, and that their careers wouldn’t be ruined as a result?” Jeremy Davies, The Fatherhood Institute[/pullquote]
A study of 2,000 employed men and women under 50 found that only 23% of men surveyed agreed parents should share leave. This suggests resistant social attitudes are likely to disrupt the progress of the reforms.
In a column for the Telegraph, shadow children’s minister Lucy Powell said fathers are faced with long hours and inflexible work practices which halt them from spending more time with their children.
“We know having more dads involved in childcare and home life is good for children, but this should benefit employers too, making their employees happier and less resentful,” she said.
The government has given companies the responsibility to choose whether to offer fathers maternity leave pay close to their current salary, rather than the statutory rate of £138.18 per week.
Although many legal experts believe most firms will do so, to avoid discrimination charges, Jeremy Davies, from the Fatherhood Institute, says the fear of losing money and status are still concerns compelling fathers to stay in the office.
Ben Walker is the former editor of Accounting Technician.