Working parents call for more government and employer support

CIPD calls for a step change from UK government and employers as research finds that support for working parents still isn’t hitting the mark.

The low take-up of Shared Parental Leave (SPL) and the lack of affordable childcare options for parents with 0-2 year-olds are both major problems that need to be addressed to support working parents more effectively, according to a new report from the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development.

The survey of over 1,000 HR professionals found that, on average, just 5 per cent of new fathers and 8 per cent of new mothers have opted for SPL since its introduction in April 2015. Just one organisation in five (21 per cent) says they had received requests from male employees to take up SPL since April 2015. And in two-thirds (67 per cent) of organisations with mothers eligible for SPL, none have opted in.

Companies need to do more for working parents

The survey also suggests that the lack of free childcare for 0-2 year-olds could be having a negative impact on women returning to work after maternity leave. Two-thirds of respondents (68 per cent) agree that the participation rate of women with young children at work would improve to a large (30 per cent) or some extent (38 per cent) if the same level of free childcare available for three and four-year-olds was available for children up to two years of age.

Rachel Suff, employment relations adviser at the CIPD, comments, ‘Shared Parental Leave was a milestone for gender equality when it was introduced last year. The intentions were right, and on paper it gives new parents much more choice and flexibility about taking leave to look after a new baby, particularly if the mother is the higher earner and if dads want to play a bigger role in their child’s early life.’

Suff thinks 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 in reality for many. Government needs to look at what steps can be taken to ensure SPL can bring a step change on the ground in the UK.

She adds, ‘Encouraging pledges on childcare were made during the last general election but the approach to date, however well-intentioned, has been to introduce ad hoc initiatives without considering their longer-term impact.

‘At a time of greater economic and labour market uncertainty, we need a national childcare strategy developed by Government in collaboration with employers, so that parents with younger children have better opportunities to return to work after having a baby.’

The survey also finds a significant lack of employer provision for working parents which is a further barrier to balancing work and care commitments. For instance, just 30 per cent of respondents say their organisation proactively promotes flexible working options to employees who have caring responsibilities, and only 11 per cent say they have a childcare policy covering the range of support available to working parents.

Suff continues, ‘Given the number of ways in which employers can help working parents – and not all of them involving a financial commitment from the employer – these findings paint a disappointing picture of the support available. The right to request flexible working was first introduced in 2003, so it’s not encouraging that so few organisations are proactively promoting flexible working over 13 years later.’

Sarah Jackson OBE, chief executive of Working Families, the UK’s work-life balance charity, thinks that, for many working parents of children under three the only support with childcare costs is childcare vouchers. So it’s concerning that more than two thirds of employers are unaware of tax-free childcare, which will replace it.

Jackson says, ‘The government should take action to raise awareness of the new scheme among employers – who can then tell working parents about it – without delay.

‘Although the shared parental leave take-up figures are in line with government expectations, government and employers should now set their sights higher – and tackle the barriers to fathers using it. Extending it to grandparents – as the government has proposed – is a red herring that will further complicate and undermine the policy’s intention; to encourage fathers to share care of their new baby.’

Less than a third of employers (31 per cent) are aware of the government’s new Tax-Free Childcare scheme, even though it will be introduced in early 2017

Further reading on working parents

Owen Gough, SmallBusiness UK

Freddie Halvorson

Owen was a reporter for Bonhill Group plc writing across the and titles before moving on to be a Digital Technology reporter for the

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