A shake-up in parental leave after pregnancy is needed so that it works better for both parents, say the Royal College of Midwives (RCM). The call is backed by maternity rights charity Maternity Action and TUC Women’s Conference.
Both organisations say the Government’s Shared Parental Leave (SPL) scheme is not working because the shift to more equal parenting that the scheme was supposed to promote is not happening. In 2019/2020, the fifth year of the scheme, take-up among eligible fathers was just 3.6%.
Currently leave for parents after having a baby is shared by both via the SPL scheme. They have 52 weeks parental leave which can be shared between them to suit their situation.
Kate Jones, Equalities and Research Officer at the Royal College of Midwives, said:
“The scheme was designed to tackle gender inequality in the workplace and beyond but is failing both parents and does not recognise the different purposes of leave for each parent. Mothers need paid leave to recover from the physical and mental impacts of pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding. The second parent needs leave to be able to support them though this. Crucially, the scheme relies on fathers and second parents being willing to take some of a mother’s maternity leave which many are not prepared to do. All parents deserve leave they can take that doesn’t rely on new mothers giving up theirs.”
The two organisations are calling for a new policy that will give each parent individual leave, with significantly increased leave for the second parent, while keeping the existing rights of mothers to 52 weeks maternity leave. They also say the scheme must be open to all workers because some on zero contracts and working in the gig economy may not be getting access to it. The basic rate of statutory pay when on parental leave also needs to increase, say the RCM and Maternity Action.
Ros Bragg, Director of Maternity Action said:
“Shared parental leave was brought in seven years ago now and it’s clear that it’s not working – take up is woeful. Our advice lines are full of parents who want to share parental leave, but confusion around the rules means that they are completely baffled. Add that to the low level of pay on offer, and the system seems almost designed to put parents off sharing leave, rather than encourage it.
“We need a new system that financially supports fathers and second parents to care for their child, while recognising that mothers need properly paid leave in order to recover from pregnancy and birth.”