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Does the 'Failed' Shared Parental Leave Scheme Need Reform?

on Tuesday, 01 June 2021.

Maternity Action's latest report recommends reforming the Shared Parental Leave (SPL) scheme. In Maternity Action's view SPL is not fit for purpose.

The latest available data on the scheme suggests take-up among eligible fathers in 2019/20 was very low, at just 3.6%. This is far below the Government's stated target of 25%. Read Maternity Action's full report.

What Are the Issues With the Current Scheme?

Under the SPL scheme, which came into force in April 2015, new mothers are legally required to take the first two weeks of maternity leave but can then exchange their statutory maternity leave for SPL. This involves transferring up to 50 weeks of that leave (up to 37 weeks of it being paid) to the father or the other second parent.

The report published by Maternity Action states that the scheme's very low take-up is due to its transferable nature, administrative complexity and restrictive eligibility criteria. Under the current SPL scheme, if a mother wants to use most or all of her maternity leave entitlement to recover from pregnancy and childbirth, there is little or no paid leave available to the father or other second parent.

According to Maternity Action, this concept of transferability makes the scheme complex and poorly understood by both employers and parents. Some new parents are also not able to qualify for the scheme as there are strict eligibility requirements. Maternity Action suggests that this leaves many new fathers with no statutory time off work following the birth of their child other than two weeks of paternity leave.

The report claims that the Government's promised Employment Bill, which we recently reported on, provides a key opportunity to scrap SPL and to replace it with a more effective and equitable system of maternity and parental leave.

What Does Maternity Action Propose?

Maternity Action propose a new '6+6+6' model to replace the existing maternity leave and SPL schemes. It is suggested that this proposed '6+6+6' model should consist of individual and non-transferable rights to enhanced leave for each parent including six months of paid maternity leave reserved for the mother, and a further six months of non-transferable parental leave for each parent. It is proposed that the six months of parental leave could be taken simultaneously or separately by the two parents, all in one go or in smaller blocks of weeks or months up to 18 months after the birth.

The report also recommends that:

  • the individual and non-transferable rights should be available to all working parents regardless of employment status, including the self-employed, from the first day of their employment
  • the right to return to the same job at the end of any period of leave should be strengthened
  • the statutory rate of pay should be increased to at least the national minimum wage level, but that over time it should be increased to real living wage levels and then eventually to wage replacement levels

It would seem unlikely that the proposals put forward by Maternity Action will be implemented within the Employment Bill, but they provide a useful insight into how critics view the current SPL arrangements and what alternative arrangements might look like.

If you have any queries relating to the Shared Parental Leave scheme or other maternity and paternity rights, please contact Siân James in our Employment Law team on 0117 314 5331, or complete the form below.

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