I write a lot here about being a working mum, but only occasionally do I mention my work specifically on this blog. A few of you know I am a lawyer, and some of you know that I now work full time doing content marketing in the legal industry and that I write and curate blogs and manage a think tank, but I guess I only mention the details when there’s relevant cross over.
And guess what? There is! Shared Parental Leave comes into force after Easter. (Although, if your baby is due this April, you would have needed to make your application under the transitional arrangements as you have to give 8 weeks notice, so this is probably of most relevance to anyone due say June onwards). So, good news! In theory, we now (or will, come April 5 2015) have a system where someone other than the mother can take a decent proportion of parenting leave.
I say, in theory, that this is good news because it is good news. Caveated good news, but good news all the same (as long as you qualify, but that’s always been the case).
We are never going to have a society where we can have workplace equality if men aren’t able to do their share of the parenting and childcare. Promoting gender equality is business critical as well as being essential to society. This is a much needed first step to normalising and allowing both parents potential equal involvement, and sends an important message to men that they could and should be involved. Also, the scheme theoretically allows more choice, more flexibility and, best of all, I think, allows you to take a longer period of leave at the same time (subject to getting all your dates and applications right, see below) so instead of being limited to the first 2 weeks together, you could potentially have nearly 6 months (if you can make it work financially).
I do have concerns with the scheme though. I’ve spent several weeks working on some free content on the scheme (which I’ll link to when we release it next week) and it’s a complicated scheme. I am used to reading and analysing this kind of thing, and I found it tricky to work out. My concerns include:
Both parents have to qualify for it. I know that seems obvious, but it’s not extending shared parenting leave rights to all parents. The mother must qualify for maternity pay and also have been employed continuously for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the due date and be employed by that employer during SPL & the father/partner (etc) must have worked for 26 of the last 66 weeks, earning at least £30 on average for 13 of those weeks. To receive an income through the scheme, you must both qualify (i.e. by being employees for a qualifying period).
The scheme is confusing. Even working out whether you qualify takes a bit of working out, and it occurs to me that the intricacies of the scheme could appear off-putting, especially to more old fashioned types who might not be so interested in doing their share of childcare.
It’s a complicated scheme with irritating consequences for all parties if it is got wrong. Miss the dates for application, or not do it correctly, and it *is* a problem. The shared parental leave part can only start once the maternity leave part has either ended, or you’ve given binding notice. So, the mother has to take a compulsory 2 weeks maternity leave after birth. She then either has to have returned to work, or, has to have given a precise date for her mat leave period ending for the shared parental leave part to commence.
Realities of the scheme in practice for partnerships where the lower income earner is entitled to enhanced maternity pay but the higher wage only statutory. I don’t have the stats to hand, but at present the higher income earner is still more likely to be a man in 2/3 of families, and it therefore makes no financial sense for him to take a proportion of the leave if it leaves the family worse off. So, excellent if the higher wage is earner is the mother who wants to return to work; a bit trickier if not.
Personally, if I did have another child, I’d love to see whether we could make this work. I’d love to go back to work after 6-9 months and let M have the next 3-6 months as primary carer. Add in holidays I would have accrued, and we could probably have a day or so a week both being at home in the cross over period.
The reality is though that I earn less than M, and I’m entitled to enhanced maternity pay, whereas presently his company only offer the mothers SMP. We lived on SMP last time and it was tough. So, it would be crazy for me to not take the whole period of enhanced pay. We could theoretically run some of the leave in tandem, or we could do some blocks of leave, but I think my enhanced pay is only available for a specific number of months. Basically, we need M’s salary, so he is limited to his leave not by what he is allowed to take time wise, but by how long we could afford for him to only earn £138.18 a week. Chances are, that’s not going to be much longer than he took when Pip was born. Even if I went back at 6-9 months, realistically, we just can’t afford for him to take the rest of the entitlement.
So, as I said, good news, in theory, and good news, with caveats, generally, but personally, based on a financial decision, as sadly, rent and bills and nursery will still have to be paid for, one from which we personally won’t be able to benefit.