Shared parental leave (SPL) became available to employed parents on 5 April 2015, allowing those parents the right to split up to 52 weeks of SPL. This was a significant shift in the law, intended to enable fathers to play a bigger role in childcare and enable mothers to go back to their careers earlier. Several years on and it is apparent that SPL is not working, with statistics suggesting that only 2% of employed parents are taking advantage of it.
The low take up, is in part due to a mixture of affordability and outdated gender views, but it is hoped that by providing SPL as an option to parents that are self-employed, will see uptake from all improve, not to mention creating fairness for those in non-traditional modes of work.
Shared Parental Leave and Pay Bill
Existing laws allow employees to share parental leave and pay with their partner. It is not, however, available to anyone who is self-employed.
Under existing legislation, a self-employed mother is entitled to a maternity allowance of £140.98 a week for 39 weeks if they have paid Class 2 National Insurance for at least 13 of the 66 weeks before their baby is due. Maternity allowance is paid only to mothers and is withdrawn if the freelance mother does any work beyond the statutory ten ‘keeping in touch’ days that she is allowed.
In an attempt to redress this imbalance for those self-employed, the Shared Parental Leave and Pay (Extension) Bill 2017-2019 (SPL Bill) was introduced into parliament on 21 February 2018.
The SPL Bills aim is to extend provisions for shared parental leave and pay to those that are self-employed. This SPL Bill would allow maternity allowance to be shared in blocks between parents who are self-employed, replicating the way in which SPL works for those in more conventional employment. It is due to have its second reading in the House of Commons on 25 January 2019.
Private Members Bill on greater transparency
You will recall MP Jo Swinson was the first MP to take her baby into the House of Commons during a debate. She has secured an agreement from the government to publish parental leave details for all governmental departments. In addition, she is now pursuing a private members bill, the Parental Leave and Pay Arrangements (Publication) Bill (transparency Bill), to require organisations with more than 250 employees to publish details of their parental leave and pay policy. The Bill was introduced into parliament on 6 June 2018. Since then, it is encouraging to see that, on 27 September 2018, there was a voluntary move in the right direction, with ten big named firms publishing their parental leave policies online. The Bill will have its second reading in the House of Commons on 25 January 2019.
The hope is that the SPL Bill will create parity between the traditionally employed and the self-employed. Given the trend in the UK towards self-employment and the gig economy, it is positive to see these changes being made, which are intended to support working families, and help them transition between home and work on the birth of a child. Indeed, this change in the law has been positively received by self-employed families, with 70% surveyed saying they would use the scheme, if it becomes available.
We hope that by offering SPL to the self-employed will play a part in eradicating those outdated gender stereotypes and so remove one of the blockers to those employed and wanting to opt for SPL.
The transparency Bill is another positive step in the right direction to encourage employers to offer attractive SPL policies to become the employers of choice. Employees will ‘vote with their feet’ and choose an employer with a clear focus on working families and in doing so this should eradicate the affordability blocker to SPL.