Many parents and equal rights campaigners have long sought a fairer balance between the amount of time spent available for looking after children by the mother and father. Traditionally the mother has been the main participant in caring for a very young child – but why should this remain the case in the 21st century? Why shouldn’t men be allowed to show the same level of care as women?
With this in mind the government finally made changes with the introduction of firstly Additional Parenting Leave in 2011 which remains in place until December 1, to be replaced by Shared Parental Leave (SPL) which applies to children born on or after April 5 2015.
Both changes are designed to give parents a more equal footing in looking after the child. You can find out more about your paternity leave courtesy of this guide from Money Advice Service.
The rules on Ordinary Paternity Statutory Leave will not change; this currently allows fathers up to two weeks off work to support their partner following the birth, in addition to their normal holiday allowance. Certain criteria exist for eligibility – the father must have been with his employer for at least 26 weeks by a certain date (15 weeks) before the baby’s birth.
After this, if the mother decides to reduce her entitlement to maternity leave the remaining 50 weeks (or however long is left) come under the umbrella of SPL. From December 1 the parents will be able to split the 50 weeks between them as they see fit.
If they want, the father could look after the baby for the entirety of the year, and the mother could return to work immediately after her two weeks’ ordinary maternity leave. Alternatively they could both take 25 weeks off at the same time, and then return to work at the same time.
If the parents are intending to do this they must put preparations in place; the mother must choose the date on which she will end her maternity leave, and the father must give his employers eight weeks’ notice of that date.
So the total number of hours taken remains the same, but most parents will ask the same question: what about pay?
Once you’ve taken into account Statutory Maternity Pay (which you can calculate here courtesy of Gov.UK) then if SPL is taken parents will each be entitled to Statutory Shared Parental Pay, at a rate of £138.18 or 90% of the parent’s weekly wages – whichever is lower.
That pay will apply for 39 weeks, but after that leave will be unpaid.
Whether £138.18 a week is enough for the average parent is of course a personal matter for the family. It equates to just 7,185.36 a year (or £5,389 over 39 weeks) compared to the UK average wage of £26,500.
So it is perhaps no surprise that the uptake figures have been so low – only one father in 50 has taken up the offer, despite widespread evidence that most men welcome a more equal set of rules for parental leave.
A study in America found that 89% of men stated paternity leave was hugely important to them, but there is a difference between belief and following it through, as this column from Tom Chivers of the Telegraph explores. But one might say that it is at least preferable to taking unpaid leave, no matter one’s wage.