It's now two years since Shared Parental Leave gave families a new way to share care in the first year of their child's life. After two weeks of compulsory maternity leave, eligible parents can share up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay with their partner.
What difference have the 731 days of the scheme made for fathers? Our new survey results suggest that the sands are shifting.
More than half of the three hundred fathers we heard from said that they would use the scheme. It's not surprising that the number one reason fathers want to use shared leave is to bond with their new child, but it's heartening that a quarter of fathers said they wanted to use the scheme because they're keen to share care with their partner. There is a clear appetite for re-examining traditional models of who works and who cares. We know that men who are involved in caring for their children early on are more likely to continue being involved as their children grow up.
But this is still a work in progress.
Half of fathers in our survey also said that their employer's attitude to fathers taking extended time off for childcare would be negative or very negative. And employer reservations about working fathers appear to go beyond just shared parental leave - our research from the beginning of the year found that fathers were twice as likely as mothers to believe that working flexibly would be viewed negatively and harm their career.
The right to request flexible working was extended to all employees with 26 weeks of service the year before the Shared Parental Leave scheme was introduced. In theory this should have meant that flexibility was no longer just a concession to working mothers. In reality, entrenched cultural ideas mean that flexibility is still not viewed as 'normal' even amongst progressive employers. Clear communication from managers and HR functions would not only help employees to understand how SPL works, it would also signal that taking this type of leave is an unexceptional thing to do.
And what about the 48% of survey respondents who said they wouldn't use SPL? For more than a third of fathers, this was because they simply couldn't afford to. We need properly paid leave so more fathers are able to spend time with their new families. Employers that enhance shared parental pay are twice as likely to receive shared parental leave requests as those who offer the statutory rate - but at the moment twice as many employers enhance maternity pay as enhance shared parental pay.
One in eleven fathers can't take SPL because they haven't been in their job for long enough. As we embark on EU exit negotiations the government has said it wants to protect and enhance the rights people have at work. An excellent place to start would be making both SPL and paternity leave day one employment rights for fathers, in the same way that maternity leave is for mothers.
We also found that a quarter of fathers didn't know about Shared Parental Leave. We often get questions on our helpline about how the nuts and bolts of the scheme work. To help bridge this gap we've worked with Alliance Manchester Business School, Lancaster University School of Management and the Fatherhood Institute to create a new video case book showing the first-hand experiences of parents who have used the scheme.