Only a fraction of fathers have taken advantage of shared parental leave rules and taken extended time off work to care for a new baby, according to the first figures on take up.
Records held by Revenue & Customs showed that only 3,000 parents took up the offer in the first three months of this year. Although it was introduced in April 2015, this is the first time that the figures have been separated out from other forms of parental leave.
It compares with 52,000 fathers who took paternity leave last year and 155,000 mothers. More than 650,000 babies are born in the UK each year, suggesting that the vast majority of fathers would use holiday entitlement or take no time off at all after the birth of a child.
Shared parental leave allows parents to divide up a year of leave between them, often with the mother having time off first and then the father when the baby is six or nine months old.
The figures were compiled by the legal firm EMW. Lawyers said that the reasons for not taking up shared parental leave were often financial, or bound up with job insecurity, with men thinking they would be seen as dispensable or uncommitted if they took months off to be with a baby.
Jon Taylor, principal at EMW, said that hundreds of thousands of families could be missing out by not embracing the new system.
“Many new parents are still unaware of their new rights or are unclear about how the system will work in practice. Many of the old concerns which have long acted as a disincentive to taking extended maternity or paternity leaves still remain,” he said.
New parents were acutely aware that even a temporary fall in income could be a struggle at such an expensive time, he said.
“Uncertainty over the impact time off will have on individual’s careers also looms large. Fathers in particular may still be concerned over the perceived stigma attached to asking for greater flexibility to take a greater role in their child’s care, in case they appear to be less ambitious or committed as a consequence. However, employers have an obligation to accommodate eligible requests in the same way for fathers as they do for mothers.”
Tom Beardshaw, paternity specialist with Executive Coaching Consultancy, said that the main reason why men were not embracing the scheme lay in its format. “At present men can only take shared parental leave if their partner loses it from her own allocation, and why would any new mother want to do this?” he said.
Mr Beardshaw said that it was poorly designed and “use it or lose it” paternity leave would be more successful.
“We know from successful international models that when men and women are given the same entitlement to parental leave, they take it up in large numbers.”