Opinion

How does the UK truly feel about men and women sharing parental leave and childcare?

7 min read

13 January 2015

Former deputy editor

Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg and employment relations minister Jo Swinson have voiced opinions on a new government study that found more than half of the country believes childcare should be a responsibility for both parents. However, a review of recent reports suggests that belief still has a long road ahead.

It’s 2015 and women are building global businesses, leading mergers and acquisitions, and becoming household names thanks to their boardroom prowess.

This has been demonstrated over the years by the likes of Tech City UK chair and digital adviser to David Cameron, Joanna Shields; Anne Summers CEO Jacqueline Gold; lastminute.com founder Martha Lane Fox; Ultimo founder Michelle Mone, and Confused.com founder and Buddi CEO Sara Murray.

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Meanwhile, while she has faced some criticism, former Google engineer-cum-executive turned Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer has helped the company grab countless headlines since 2012 through more than 30 takeovers – including the $1.1bn Tumblr buyout – to stay relevant and grow profits.

Needless to say, business is no longer a man’s world.

And that’s great news, of course, especially as the UK approaches the shared parental leave programme which launches on 5 April 2015.

To recap, the government scheme allows new parents to share the total allowance of 50 weeks maternity leave. Mothers are able to return to work sooner if they wish to do so and hand over the remaining allowance, while fathers can experience additional one-to-one time and provide more support than is currently enabled through the maximum fortnight period of paternity leave – which must be taken within 56 days of the birth.

Despite this huge recognition of how women’s careers have changed and the diversity experienced in the market over the years, a report on 5 December showed fathers were underwhelmed by the prospect as just 23 per cent of men agreed that parents should share leave – though this spiked to 31 per cent for 18-24 year olds.

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The data also found that 42 per cent of men would take the minimum paternity leave, and just 12 per cent approving of taking the full allowance, with the decisions driven largely based on earnings.

Indeed, while the policy may have changed on time away from the workplace, the procedure for pay is still very much basic – 90 per cent of average weekly earnings for the first six weeks, then a statutory shared parental pay (ShPP) rate of £138.18 a week for 37 weeks following that.

It’s a tangled process, especially if some businesses have gracious maternity procedures in place, so employers should have started looking at the legalities months ago.

So what do Clegg and Swinson have to say on the matter? Find out on page two.

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A new survey released from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills on 13 January has found 22 per cent of Brits expect mothers should be responsible for childcare.

Deputy PM Nick Clegg, said: “This Edwardian notion that women should stay at home while men go out and support the family has simply no place in this day and age. We need a modern Britain and a fair society that works for families, not against them.”

Comparatively, that old concept is greatly outweighed by 53 per cent that believe childcare should be an equal responsibility for mother and father, and 22 per cent feel the parents should have the option to divide care as they see fit.

What’s of particular interest, however, is that more men believe childcare should be equal than women, at 56 per cent and 50 per cent respectively.

Clegg continued: “We know that mums and dads want more flexibility and choice when it comes to juggling their home and work lives and we’re listening and taking action. 

“That’s why we’ve introduced shared parental leave so that parents can make their own decisions about how to raise their family, whether it’s giving women the choice to go back to work earlier or men the opportunity to spend more time with their children.”

When specifically asking parents about shared parental leave, two-thirds said they would have considered it if the option was available at the time. Again, this was higher for fathers at 75 per cent compared to 63 per cent of mothers, which is likely due to men feeling as though they’ve been missing out with such little time off with their newborns on offer.

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Six in ten men said they believe the main advantage of shared leave would be a closer bond, 44 per cent said it would be fairer and 39 per cent said they could let their partner get back to career progression.

A 31-year-old legal caseworker who took three months of leave to care for his son while his wife went back to work backs that up, having said: “The bond you get with your child is the best thing about it. Getting to experience looking after a child full time is invaluable – I understand his likes and his personality so much better.”

Meanwhile, 83 per cent of people considering children in the future said they would discuss shared leave when they become parents.

Jo Swinson, employment relations minister, offered her thoughts and said: “Becoming a parent is an amazing, life-changing event. Helping new parents negotiate the balance between their work and family responsibilities will benefit employers through greater staff retention and loyalty. This survey shows people are rejecting dated stereotypes about the roles of men and women.”