I was on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning (you can listen here from about 02:45:45) responding to a report from law firm EMW claiming that dads are snubbing shared parental leave. I think it’s safe to say a small minority have taken SPL, and that’s perhaps not unexpected for something that has only been possible for just over a year, but I don’t think the data available to us at this point enables us to say whether the policy has succeeded or failed (not that this has stopped quite a few from doing so). We shouldn’t be drawn into rubbishing the policy without a) good data and b) thinking seriously about what success would look like in this case.
Government will release official statistics in 2018 and even at that point they expect take up to be between 2 and 8%. In Sweden where shared parental leave has been possible since the 1970s, 25% of families take advantage of it. Does this count as successful policy? If not, what figure would? From my perspective, data is interesting but the most important thing is that families now have a choice. If my son had been born a year earlier, it wouldn’t have been a consideration; I would have returned to work and my partner would have done the whole 9-12 months of maternity leave. No options. SPL isn’t perfect but for the first time it allows families a choice over how they approach their baby’s first year and that has to be a good thing.
The excellent Sarah O’Connor from the Financial Times has looked at the figures from today’s report here but whatever the veracity of the data, I think it’s difficult to judge the success or otherwise of a policy based on three months of data. Full stop.
Reports in April based on research by the Women’s Business Council and My Family Care suggested that 1% of eligible men had taken shared parental leave. On closer inspection the data showed that in fact 1% of men at the surveyed companies took shared parental leave REGARDLESS OF WHETHER OR NOT THEY’D HAD A CHILD. I’m not sure how much of this is down to poor analysis and how much is down to poor reporting from journalists that prefers to report a disaster than a triumph (less still an unclear picture that may have some light shed on it in two years’ time) but there have now been two reports and two rounds of media stories that claim the policy is a disaster and neither have been based on what I would describe as robust data. I think this does real damage to the idea of SPL without the justification for doing so.
Lots of people won’t want to do SPL. Lots of people won’t be able to make the finances work. The policy needs improvement to make it a real option for families. Employers can clearly do much more to promote SPL and to make it a more financially viable option. Quite simply SPL worked out for our family at the time and the aim for employers and government must now be to ensure that SPL is a realistic option for all families, no more and no less. In my book, giving families that real option, not an arbitrary percentage take up will be the real measure of policy success.