Bring Parity to Shared Parental Leave

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2020 National Women's Conference
24 October 2019

This conference welcomes the introduction of Shared Parental Leave in 2015, allowing both parents to have some flexibility in the care and bonding with their child in the first crucial months after birth. UNISON shared the view of many women�s rights organisations at the time, that in order to inject speed into achieving women�s equality, childcare should not be seen as the sole responsibility of women but should be shared. This would also allow fathers and/or partners to spend valuable time with new born and children at a very young age so that they too would have the chance to bond with their children. Shared Parental Leave has to be taken within a baby�s first year. One of the stated attractions of shared parental leave is that parents can be on leave together, for up to six months. Alternatively, parents can take leave separately (if their employer agrees). Theoretically, up to 50 weeks of leave can be shared and eligible parents can also share up to 37 weeks of statutory shared parental pay. However, parents are not that impressed and since the introduction of Shared Parental Leave in 2015, the take up has been very low, with only just over 1% of eligible new parents using any Share Parental Leave in 2017-18. Research from Working Families and EMW Law firm and others, suggests that there are many reasons for this. Family finances are one of the causes of the slow take up. The financial reality is that, for many couples it is entirely rational for the partner who earns less to stay at home. The first 6 weeks of maternity pay are paid at an enhanced rate and new mothers receive 90% of average weekly earnings whereas, fathers and/or partners (including same sex partners), do not have entitlement to a period of enhanced pay. The statutory shared parental pay is a complete disincentive to many families who say that they just can�t afford it. Conference does not think that it is fair or true to the spirit of shared parenting or true equality to have one parent sacrifice some of their time to give to the other parent. Also, because the mother is required to relinquish some of her allocation of maternity leave in order for Shared Parental Leave to happen, it places mothers in a difficult and potentially vulnerable position. An example of the pressure that could be put on women is highlighted in the current Conservative Government consultation �Good Work Plan: Proposals to support families� (July 2019) where the mother is cynically and provocatively referred to as the �gatekeeper� of Shared Parental Leave. Decent maternity leave and pay was hard fought for and the Maternity, Pregnancy and Parental Leave Regulations are intended as a means of ensuring a mother�s health during pregnancy and after childbirth, as well as the health of the baby. As it currently stands, Shared Parental Leave subverts the very premise of maternity leave that women fought so hard to obtain. Conference believes that mothers should not become the bargaining-chip in order that couples can share and benefit from time spent with new born and children in their first year.In order to have true shared parenting, which is crucial to the wellbeing of the family, the statutory maternity and parental leave allowance should be the same for both parents. Conference believes that fathers and/or partners (including same-sex couples) should also be afforded the same entitlement to the enhanced rate of paid leave ; 50 weeks of leave in total with 37 weeks paid for each parent whereby both are entitled to a period of enhanced pay. Conference therefore calls upon the National Women�s Committee to work with Labour Link and national committees and service groups to:1)Lobby the government of the day and campaign to ensure that both parents have the right to equal maternity and parental leave and enhances pay for mothers, fathers and/or partners (including same-sex couples)