The CIPD has called for a step change from UK Government and employers as research finds that support for working parents still isn’t hitting the mark.
The low take-up of Shared Parental Leave and the lack of affordable childcare options for parents with 0-2 year-olds are both major problems that need to be addressed to support working parents more effectively, according to a new report from the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development.
The survey of over 1,000 HR professionals found that, on average, just five per cent of new fathers and eight per cent of new mothers have opted for Shared Parental Leave since its introduction in April 2015. Just one organisation in five said they had received requests from male employees to take up Shared Parental Leave since April 2015. And in two-thirds of organisations with mothers eligible for Shared Parental Leave, none have opted in.
Rachel Suff, Employment Relations Adviser at the CIPD, comments:
“Shared Parental Leave was a milestone for gender equality when it was introduced last year. However, the complexity of the rules and the financial gap between statutory maternity pay and statutory shared parental pay in the early weeks are clearly outweighing these positives in reality for many.
“Encouraging pledges on childcare were made during the last general election but the approach to date, however well-intentioned, has been to introduce ad hoc initiatives without considering their longer-term impact. For example, the more time people spend out of the labour market, the harder it is for them to re-enter it, and the continued lack of provision for 0-2 year-olds means that an unintended consequence of this policy is that the choice to return to work just isn’t there for some new parents. At a time of greater economic and labour market uncertainty, we need a national childcare strategy developed by Government in collaboration with employers, so that parents with younger children have better opportunities to return to work after having a baby.”
The survey also found a significant lack of employer provision for working parents which is a further barrier to balancing work and care commitments. For instance, just 30% of respondents said their organisation proactively promotes flexible working options to employees who have caring responsibilities, and only 11% say they have a childcare policy covering the range of support available to working parents.
The survey also suggests that the lack of free childcare for 0-2 year-olds could be having a negative impact on women returning to work after maternity leave. Two-thirds of respondents (68 per cent) agreed that the participation rate of women with young children at work would improve to a large (30 per cent) or some extent (38 per cent) if the same level of free childcare available for three- and four-year-olds was available for children up to two years of age.*
Sarah Jackson OBE, Chief Executive of Working Families, the UK’s work-life balance charity, said:
“For many working parents of children under three the only support with childcare costs is childcare vouchers. So it’s concerning that more than two thirds of employers are unaware of tax-free childcare, which will replace it. “
Although the shared parental leave take-up figures are in line with government expectations, Government and employers should now set their sights higher – and tackle the barriers to fathers using it. Extending it to grandparents – as the government has proposed – is a red herring that will further complicate and undermine the policy’s intention; to encourage fathers to share care of their new baby.“
But the crucial piece of the jigsaw is more flexible working opportunities – so that parents can combine work and care on an ongoing basis. Disappointingly, this report shows that only 30% of employers are proactively promoting flexible working options. Employers taking a flexible by default approach to recruitment would be a game-changing first step.”