Shared Parental Leave: baby steps towards more flexible childcare

Shared parental leave rules designed to help new parents and adopters balance work and caring responsibilities came into effect on Sunday (5 April). But how much difference will they really make?

Parents of babies born (and children adopted) on or after 5 April now have the choice to convert up to 50 weeks of statutory Maternity Leave and 37 weeks of Maternity Pay into more flexible Shared Parental Leave. The main advantages over Maternity Leave – which can only be taken in one continuous block by the mother – is increased flexibility for both parents or carers. Shared Parental Leave can be taken:

  • by either partner;
  • simultaneously by both partners; and
  • in up to three separate blocks of time.

The same rules apply to adoptive parents, same-sex couples and parents using surrogacy arrangements. The government claims it will give couples more freedom to balance work and family life, make motherhood less of a binary ‘career or baby’ choice for working women, and create more scope for fathers to get involved in early care (according to the Fatherhood Institute, “when fathers take parental leave in addition to their two weeks’ paternity leave, they remain more involved with their children, are happier in their relationships and actually live longer”).

The TUC has given the move a cautious welcome, but warns that 2 in every 5 fathers still won’t benefit until the law goes further. There are two main reasons for this: the rules do not cover fathers whose partners are not in work, or fathers who have less than 26 weeks’ service with their employer by the end of the 15th week before their child’s due date. (Maternity Leave on the other hand is a right for women from the very first day of work.) Parents also need to be mindful of the possible financial implications when opting for Shared Parental Leave.

Under the new rules, Shared Parental Leave is paid at £139.58 a week, or 90% of average weekly earnings, whichever is less. This may be considerably lower than Maternity Pay, which is paid at 90% of earnings for the first six weeks (indeed, many enlightened employers offer full pay). Parents are advised to check their employment contracts for clarification. We’ve put together a new Shared Parental Leave section to help you work out if you are eligible, what you could be entitled to under the new rules and whether the new flexibility on offer is right for you.