During 2017, we invited HR professionals, researchers and other interested organisations to contribute to a public policy hackathon, (a joint problem-solving activity), on a range of issues relating to families, parents and the workplace.
The growing rate of female participation in the UK labour market means that women now make up around half of the workforce, meaning that a very high proportion of working women and men are parents. The evidence shows that many more dads want to play an equal role in childcare.
Such changes have profound implications for both men and women’s employment and how Government and employers can best support working parents. The overriding aim should be to recognise and encourage the growing involvement of fathers in childrearing while at the same time acknowledging that most working mothers still don’t experience anything like a level playing field in terms of trying to balance work and care commitments.
Successive governments have made significant public policy changes over the past few years to improve equality for working parents, but how effective are some of these changes proving to be, and what more needs to can be done?
Is Shared Parental Leave hitting the right mark?
When introduced, Shared Parental Leave (SPL) was a real milestone for equality. In theory, it gives new parents much more choice and flexibility about leave arrangements, particularly new fathers who want to play a more significant role in their child’s early life. However, on average, just 5% of eligible new fathers and 8% of new mothers have opted for SPL since its introduction in April 2015, according to 2016 CIPD research. More recent research by EMW law firm, reported by the Financial Times, pegs the take-up as even lower, with just 8,700 of new parents using the scheme in the 12 months to March 2017.
The complexity of the rules for SPL and the financial gap between maternity pay and shared parental pay in the early weeks are a barrier for many employees. A poll of HR professionals by the CIPD 72% agreed that the process and legal requirements of SPL were either ‘complicated’ or ‘very complicated’, and some admitted that their organisation wasn’t actively promoting SPL to employees as a result.
When George Osborne was Chancellor the Government committed to reviewing SPL and simplifying the framework – but at the time of writing there is still no sign of consultation and one is needed to improve the impact of SPL.
In September 2017 the Government launched its new childcare provision – extending the entitlement to 30 hours of free childcare for working parents of three- and four-year-olds. In theory, any state support for childcare is to be welcomed, but there are serious concerns about the ability of childcare providers to deliver on the 30 hours’ of free childcare for working parents and the funding they receive to make this a reality.
Furthermore, the continued absence of funding for young children from birth to two (aside from disadvantaged two-year-olds) does not encourage women to return to work immediately after maternity leave if they want to.
The 2016 CIPD research found that over two-thirds of employers (68%) agree that the participation rate of women with young children at work would improve to a large (30%) or some extent (38%) if the same level of free childcare support was available for 0-2-year-olds. As a result, the CIPD is calling for a review of the Government’s childcare provision, to ensure that parents with young children have better opportunities to return to work, and that valuable talent is not lost from the labour market.
Here we highlight just two of the key issues that need addressing if we are to meet the challenges of developing an effective framework to support working parents and give them the choice and flexibility they need to balance work and childcare.