The parent problem

01 October 2019

This article was featured in the October 2019 issue of the magazine. 

Andrew Weir, head of employee relations and advocacy at Moorepay, discusses the effect of shared parental leave on careers and identifies how employers can help their employees

Last month, September, saw the start of the new school year when some parents will have dropped their children off at the school gates for the first time. With this in mind we’ve been reflecting on those beginning their journey into parenthood and how employers handle the challenge. 

According to Ipsos Mori research (, 45% of people believe that taking time off work to look after a child has a detrimental impact on their career, whilst just 34% said they believe their organisation is supportive of shared parental leave. This demonstrates that our approach to parental leave isn’t working as effectively as it should, a failure that led former prime minister, Theresa May, to launch a consultation into parental leave entitlements while she was still in office. 

In 2015, the government introduced statutory shared parental leave to give greater childcare flexibility for parents in the first year after their baby is born. Shared parental leave is available to both birth and/or adoptive parents, allowing both parents (providing they qualify) to share a period of leave to care for the new member of the family.

Despite the opportunities this scheme should have created, the take up has been relatively low. From a sample of 285,000 couples, as few as 2% took up shared parental leave, according to

The problem is twofold. 

The first issue concerns the differing perceptions of men and women around taking leave and how it will affect their career. According to Ipsos Mori’s research, almost three in ten women (29%) who have taken maternity leave agree it had a negative impact on their career, while less than half the proportion of men (13%) noticed the same impact following paternity leave. 

The second issue is the lack of appeal of shared parental leave. One reason for the lack of men taking up the opportunity of shared parental leave is affordability. If either or both parents take shared parental leave, they only receive one pot of statutory shared parental pay between them. This amounts to £140.98 a week or 90% of the employee’s average weekly earnings (whichever is lower).


...parent on the lowest income before any statutory payments will be the person who takes up the longest leave period...


Statutory maternity or adoption pay when available (which can also come with employer enhancements), is only available to mothers or one parent respectively but does have a higher value. This equates to 90% of average earnings for the first six weeks and then £140.98 a week for 33 weeks.

Therefore, most often, the parent on the lowest income before any statutory payments will be the person who takes up the longest leave period with its associated (or enhanced) pay. And despite efforts to level the playing field on pay with initiatives such as gender pay gap reporting, women are still normally the lowest paid in a couple. 

Of course, the shared parental leave rules are issues that must be addressed at a policy level, but employers have a part to play too. Employers need to do more to reassure new parents their career opportunities will not be hindered by their decision to start or grow a family. 

If a company cannot afford to offer enhancements to pay, it should ensure employees feel confident in their future development within the business. Employers should also consider offering flexible working options that support both parents in balancing their professional and personal responsibilities. These may include flexitime, compressed hours or working from home. In order to retain and attract talented individuals, employers need to prove that they are transparent and willing to treat parents fairly.