Can fathers really have equal opportunity to spend time with their children, in 2020?
Ashley Hunt, Director and Employment Lawyer shares his views on Parental Leave and the reasons why men are reluctant to take shared parental leave
Over four years ago it was decided that the legislation permitting time off for new fathers was not sufficient and that it needed to be overhauled. In came ‘shared parental leave’.
On paper the idea is strong and inclusive, the objective is to allow fathers substantial time off to care and bond with their new baby, alike women. Shared parental leave surrounded itself with rules that in theory meant that women, those particularly in higher earning roles could return to work with the safe knowledge that the care for her new baby was being taken good care of by the father, allowing a couple to work and raise their new child.
In theory it was established to help and encourage more fathers to take more leave in the year following the birth of their child. At the time employment relations minister Jo Swinson MP boasted that it would also help increase workplace equality.
So with all that theory, surely it’s been a raging success – right?
Wrong, according to the recent analysis just over 1% of those entitled took shared parental leave. Why is this?
Just over 1% of those entitled
take shared parental leave
Generally, most fathers simply cannot afford to forgo their usual salary. The amount that is permitted under the government scheme is very low with most males in employment earning considerably more. To allow such a drop in income could mean less ability to in effect care for their family, owing to modern day financial constraints.
In addition, there is a huge fear of stigma and prejudice being placed upon men who look to take up shared parental leave. Whilst it is something that a lot of men are aware of, barely 1% as statistic show has felt that it is possible to take leave. When speaking to male co-workers and male friends I myself learned that they feared that people would be cross at them for taking such a long period of time off as the attitudes of a lot of workplaces, especially those in male orientated industries, still believe that ‘women raise children’ and ‘men go out to work’. Male employees also believe that they will be deemed as ‘dropping their co-workers in it’ in terms of workload again fearing the reprisal this would have on them and any future career. For years it has been a battle well documented for women that when they have children their changes of workplace progression can be affected, this is certainly a clear fear for men and a significant factor in why less have taken up shared parental leave.
Alongside all of this, the other issue as to why this theorised idea of shared parent leave has not proven to be effective is based upon the fact that most couples really want to spend the time together when they are caring for the new child. The fact that women have to return to work to allow the men to care for the new child causes the men to feel upset that they are taking away some of the precious time that the women should be naturally enjoying.
I think overall the main reason shared parental leave has not been utilised as hoped is that we still live in a time where we fear the reaction and believes that others will not support the decision instead of a time that should embrace what is allowed. If the right level of financial support was provided, this could encourage more men to share the leave and move forward out of the stigma.
This then poses the question:
Is it the shared parental leave that requires the overhaul; or
Is it paternity leave that needs to be for a greater period of time, at a rate of pay that is more inclusive for all?
It is interesting that statistically, it is still the case that significantly more women hold childcare commitments over men. This is something that I think is going to change over the years as I myself have found that I am the parent that shares the primary caring role to allow my wife to also advance her career, alike many other men I know. I have known many friends that have in fact adopted the ‘stay at home’ role and cared completely for their children. So, if these circumstances are common amongst my friendship circles, and most likely in many others, why is it still that statistically women are the primary childcare providers? Is this back to the earlier points raised in this article regarding financial pressure and stigma?
I am not clear as to the answer as this is something that is still very much a point for discussion and determination, but it is certainly something that should be more openly considered.
Ashley Hunt heads-up the Employment team at Lawson-West and can be contacted on:
firstname.lastname@example.org and Tel: 01858 445 483.