The Government has today launched a new initiative aimed at increasing the uptake of shared parental leave. Unfortunately, the ‘Share the joy‘ campaign misses the point.
When I read the headlines this morning, I naively thought that some much-needed policy change was on the way. Sadly not. It’s just raising awareness of a pre-existing option that is effectively open to few.
As things stand, only 285,000 couples qualify for shared parental leave. Yes, only 285,000. The campaign refers to this figure as if it is a large one. Relatively speaking, though, it isn’t.
According to the Office for National Statistics, there are 19 million families in the UK. Of course, this includes those who don’t plan on having any more children, but we’re still looking at millions of couples who don’t qualify. Even if only one million of this number are still growing their families, it still means that only around 30% will qualify.
The second headline statistic shows that just 2% of those who qualify are taking shared parental leave. I think this tells its own story and don’t believe that a publicity campaign is going to do much to change it.
Of the relative few who qualify, most aren’t taking up shared parental leave as they can’t afford to. Other reasons proffered for the low uptake include supposed cultural stigmas with men taking time away from work.
This is a great shame. I strongly believe that dads should have more of an opportunity to spend time with their children in the early days. Some quarters of society still view us as second-class parents. With that in mind, a fairer approach that is available from day one would go a long way to shifting perceptions.
It’s obvious to me that a change of direction is needed. Now don’t get me wrong; I think shared parental leave is great for those it has worked for, but they are very much in the minority.
A sum of £1.5 million has gone into the Share the joy campaign and it seems like a massive waste of money. If something that is supposed to be making a difference to families is performing at such a low level after almost three years, the logical answer is to change it rather than promote it again.
We need a system that is available to more and could do a lot worse than look elsewhere for inspiration. In Sweden, for example, dads are actively encouraged to take extended leave. And thanks to sensible budgeting, this is without the worry of taking a financial hit.
In fact, Sweden has had a progressive attitude to the role of dads for over 40 years. We’re four decades off the pace fiscally and culturally which is simply unacceptable.
So I can’t say that I can share the joy with today’s announcement. It’s time to rip up this approach and come up with a new one.