SHARED PARENTAL LEAVE – A THOUGHTFUL INSIGHT INTO TAKING UP THE SCHEME
I write this as a father of new-born twins as I begin my six-month leave from work. I’m taking Shared Parental Leave (SPL), something that seems to be an under-utilised employment scheme offering both parents the opportunity to share leave between them. Given that only 2% of parents currently take advantage of it, there is a good chance that you, like many others, know very little detail about SPL.
I’ve spent much of the last few months explaining SPL to various people. Like many schemes, it is hard to summarise in a few paragraphs so I advise reading more about it online once you’ve finished reading this. In short, every employer is now required to allow new parents (within 12 months of birth or adoption) 50 weeks SPL between them. This may be taken in blocks, in one go, or at the same time. Out of these, a minimum of 37 weeks must be paid statutory rate (£150 per week), although some employers will enhance pay above this for a certain amount of time.
The big factor is how many days your employer will pay your full or enhanced pay for the 37 weeks. The fact is that statutory pay will barely cover the cost of nappies, and some employers are more generous than others. But bear in mind that you can attach your annual leave to SPL. A frequently untold truth is that you still accrue AL despite being ‘on leave’.
So far, so good. So what does it look like in practice? It’s important to realise that you don’t have to take all 50 weeks in one go. A couple of friends have only taken a month off, a decision which was naturally more palatable to their employer and perhaps more agreeable given their personal set of circumstances. I, on the other hand, have gone for the ‘full fat’ approach for the following reasons: my wife’s employer pays her full-pay for four months; my employer (generously) pays me full-pay for six months; we’ve saved up and carried over as much holiday as possible and added that to the beginning and end of the SPL. My wife will be away from work for just over the first two-thirds of the year, I will be away for the second, and we will overlap by a couple of months in the middle. We aim to budget for the weeks when we drop down to statutory or no pay.
You may think that SPL is a complicated beast. But all that is really required is tallying up the weeks and getting your HR and Line Manager to authorise your plans. Of course, there remains some stigma attached, often depending on where you work and who you work with or for. This might be in terms of your developing career path or resentment amongst colleagues who will cover your workload whilst you’re away. Here’s a tip: I decided to time it to perfection, working right to the end of a full reporting period with a promotion pending and a new role starting in January 2022. My wife (a solicitor who earns more than me), was also concerned, yet similarly worked tirelessly until the eleventh hour to establish a strong reputation within her team and then honestly negotiating a mutual agreement with her boss. But remember this: you, as a father, have every right to want to be Super Dad for the year, topping up the family coffers with some credit at the expense of your employer for a while.
As modern society seeks to become fairer and more equal, I believe that SPL has a crucial part to play. Why not take part in one of the greatest shifts in history, be a pioneer, support a scheme that may not exist forever? I’ll be thinking of you as I gently rock the pram in my local pub garden, sipping a cool beer, putting the world to rights.
Government website pages for Shared Parental Leave
1. Policy page: https://www.gov.uk/shared-parental-leave-and-pay
2. Government Campaign page for SPL (this includes testimonials and eligible check): https://sharedparentalleave.campaign.gov.uk/
Other articles of interest
1. Johnny Davis, Daddy’s home: ‘Why on earth did I take shared parental leave?,’ The Guardian online, 27 Mar 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/mar/27/shared-parental-leave-johnny-davis
2. Rachel Duncan, Why Shared Parental Leave matters, theHRDirector online. https://www.thehrdirector.com/shared-parental-leave-matters/