U.K.: Too Little Advantage Taken of Child Care, Parental Leave Benefits, Study Shows

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By Ali Qassim

Dec. 27—The British government needs to encourage greater use of its shared parental leave program and address the lack of affordable childcare options for parents with children up to 2 years old, according to a survey of human resources professionals conducted by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

Since shared parental leave was introduced in April 2015, just 5 percent of new fathers and 8 percent of new mothers have taken advantage of the program, according to the survey of over 1,000 HR professionals, while only 20 percent of employers report receiving requests from male employees to take parental leave, and only one-third report requests from mothers.

Support Cutoff Too High?

Although shared parental leave was “a milestone for gender equality when it was introduced last year,” CIPD’s employment relations adviser Rachel Suff stressed that the complexity of the rules and the financial gap between statutory maternity pay and statutory shared parental pay in the early weeks are clearly outweighing these positives for many.

Asked about the survey’s findings, a spokesman for the Department for Energy & Industrial Strategy told Bloomberg BNA that “there are many factors that affect a couple’s decision on how childcare should be managed and by whom, and shared parental leave gives parents extra flexibility when making these important decisions.”

The spokesman added that BEIS is investing a record amount of money in childcare—6 billion pounds ($7.4 billion) per year by 2020—including an additional 1 billion pounds ($1.2 billion) per year in the program providing 570 hours of free early education or childcare per year for all 3- to 4-year-olds in England, usually taken as 15 hours a week for 38 weeks.

According to the survey, however, it is the lack of free childcare for children under 3 that is hindering mothers from returning to work. For instance, two-thirds of respondents said that if the same level of free childcare were extended to children up to 2 years of age, a third or so more women would return to work.

Business Backs Expanded Support

This is an option largely supported by business.

Employers “want to support parents following a child’s birth, both while they are on leave and when they return,” Matthew Percival, the head of employment law and employee relations at the Confederation of British Industry, told Bloomberg BNA. “Closing the gap between the end of paid maternity leave and childcare support will better help them to do this. That’s why the CBI is calling on the government to extend statutory maternity pay to the full 52 weeks of leave and extend childcare support to all 1- and 2-year-olds.”

Nevertheless, the survey found that employers fail to provide enough inducements to encourage working parents to take advantage of parental leave programs. Fewer than a third of respondents believe their employers proactively promote flexible working options to employees who have caring responsibilities, for example, while only 11 percent said they have a childcare policy covering the range of support available to working parents.

“The right to request flexible working was first introduced in 2003,” Suff said “so it’s not encouraging that so few organizations are proactively promoting flexible working over 13 years later.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Ali Qassim in London at correspondents@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rick Vollmar at rvollmar@bna.com

For More Information

The CIPD’s survey is available here.

For more information on British HR law and regulation, see the U.K. primer.

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