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Government and employers need to provide more support for working parents

Posted by: Ian Piper


Far fewer mothers stay at home now that is a certain fact. The once traditional model of a father being the ‘breadwinner’ working full time and the mother staying at home to look after the kids is now less likely, as is the father working full time and mother working part time.

The interface between work and childcare has changed significantly over the past few decades. The growing rate of female participation in the UK Labour market means that women now make up half of the workforce.

Sociologists coined the term “motherhood penalty” to highlight the systematic disadvantages that working mothers encounter in pay, perceived competence and benefits relative to childless women. This is the reasoning behind the consistent pay gap and low uptake of Shared Parental Leave (SPL).

Despite this, we must recognise the progress towards achieving gender equality at work for women; such as initiatives of SPL and the right to for all parents to request flexible working. On paper it is a milestone for gender equality and it gives new parents the choice and flexibility.

As lovely as having a baby is, it is also a significant financial strain on new parents. Now that there are considerably more women working, there are cases when the mother is the higher earner. Further, let’s not forget that the Dad may also just want to play a larger role in their child’s early life which is something that SPL welcomes.

The low uptake of SPL is ultimately down to the complexity of the rules and financial gap between statutory maternity pay and statutory shared parental pay in the early weeks. The government needs to look into this factor and bring a change as well as a better understanding for parents. A recent report on the low take up of SPL alongside the lack of affordable childcare options for parents with children aged 0-2 years old, are considerable problems that the government needs to address in order to help support working parents.According to a CIPD survey, 1000 HR Professionals reported that on average just 5% of fathers and 8% of mothers have opted for SPL.

The scheme has been criticised for its complexity and this acts as a barrier to a wider take up. Although government initially predicted low up take figures at the beginning of the scheme, it is estimating considerable scope to improve. In March 2016 the government also confirmed a consultation on ‘grandparents leave’, of which 25% of parents thought this was a step too far.

Based on these results, CIPD suggests that instead of this focus, the government should think carefully with the planned extension on SPL and concentrate more on increasing the uptake of SPL by mums and dads. The more time people spend out of the labour market, the harder it is for them to re enter it. A continued lack of government support for 0-2 year olds means that an unintended effect of this policy is that the choice to return to work may not be there for some new parents. Therefore it makes sense to develop an effective framework to support their need to balance work and children.

Employers need to put in place a cohesive set of policies and initiatives to help working parents achieve a good balance between the demands of work and family life. Then employers are likely to reap benefits including better levels of employee well-being, engagement, commitment, loyalty retention and productivity.

Find the full survey here:

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