The UK’s Department for Business is making a new push to raise awareness of the Shared Parental Leave program, after finding that as few as 2 percent of eligible parents are taking advantage of it, the BBC reports:
Around half of the general public are still unaware the option exists, nearly three years after it was introduced, the government said. It now plans to spend £1.5m to better inform parents about the policy. Experts say that as well as a lack of understanding of what is on offer, cultural barriers and financial penalties are deterring some parents from sharing parental leave.
The government’s campaign will encourage parents to “share the joy” through online advertising, social media and on billboards. Business minister Andrew Griffiths said the policy meant dads didn’t have to miss out on “their baby’s first step, word or giggle”.
Nearly three years after Shared Parental Leave was enacted, the government is still struggling to get British workers to use it. Approximately 285,000 couples become eligible for the publicly guaranteed benefit each year, but by one estimate last year, fewer than 9,000 parents took advantage of it in the year prior to March 2017.
The Shared Parental Leave scheme grants new mothers (or “lead parents” in same-sex couples) a year of leave to divide between themselves and their partners in any proportion they choose, in an effort to encourage couples share parenting responsibilities more evenly by making it easier for fathers to take paternity leave. Low take-up has plagued the program since its inception, however, though not because of a lack of demand for leave among British fathers.
Instead, many UK fathers fear that they will suffer a “fatherhood penalty” if they take on a more active role in their children’s upbringing, akin to the motherhood penalty that drives mothers’ earnings down and contributes significantly to the gender pay gap. Skewed financial incentives also make it costly for some mothers to share their parental leave with their partners: Because British employers often top up mothers’ statutory maternity pay but don’t typically do the same for fathers, couples that share leave stand to lose income for doing so.
In some recent employment tribunal cases, however, working fathers have pressed successful discrimination claims against their employers for enhancing pay for maternity but not paternity leave. It is not yet a matter of settled law whether this practice is generally discriminatory, but the courts seem inclined to push the law in that direction, which might encourage more parents to use shared leave.