Parents can now share the 52 weeks of parental leave for the birth or adoption of their child/children. The introduction of the law will give families the flexibility to create the right care for their children, regardless of which parent can provide it. Policies such as this have existed in Scandanavian countries for over 30 years, but its introduction into the UK marks a new era.
1. Shared leave must be taken in the first year of the child’s life or in the first year of adoption.
2. Time off can be divided into blocks rather than one single chunk of time for either parents
3. Shared leave is paid at statutory levels unless employers have an enhanced scheme
4. Both parents must be employed (certain time limits apply)
5. Shared leave can be taken by parents at the same time
What are the benefits of shared leave?
Shared leave allows families to construct their own best version of childcare. In turn, this should allow women greater flexibility about when they return to work after having or adopting a child, in theory limiting the negative impact felt in women’s careers after having children. It also allows men the opportunity to be as involved as they wish with their child. Although this policy is not a “one size fits all” approach to change, it does represent progress, bringing the start of policy changes which could, ultimately, alter our society.
What at are the limitations of shared leave?
Because of the limitations of the new law, the TUC believe over 40% of new parents won’t be eligible for shared leave. Both couples have to be working and, even if they are eligible, parents could lose out financially as all shared leave is paid at statutory levels unless enhanced terms are provided by their employer. Some concerns have been raised that enhanced maternity provisions could be affected as businesses respond to the additional responsibilities that shared leave brings.
Critics say that this policy hasn’t gone far enough. Similar laws were introduced in Sweden in the 1970s with limited take up. It was only when a “use it or lose it” policy was introduced did more men take part in the shared leave option.
What does this mean for parents-to-be?
Many parents and parents-to-be find maternity and paternity pay a confusing prospect, and shared leave only adds to the confusion. The key thing to remember is to be clear on what your employers already offer and find how how they will be supporting the new policy. Know what you want for your family and work through the financial implications.
Will the changes to the law affect your family? Is sharing leave after a child a realistic option? What are your thoughts?
Below are some useful resources if you want further information on shared parental leave.