The take-up of shared parental leave, which entitles workers to time off when their children are born, has been branded “woeful” amid calls for a shake up of the system.
The scheme was meant to promote more equal parenting but the shift has not happened, the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) and maternity rights charity Maternity Action said.
Changes are now needed so it works better for both parents, the organisations said.
In 2019/2020, the fifth year of the scheme, take-up among eligible fathers was just 3.6%, the RCM said.
“The scheme was designed to tackle gender inequality in the workplace and beyond but is failing both parents and does not recognise the different purposes of leave for each parent,” Kate Jones from the RCM said.
“Mothers need paid leave to recover from the physical and mental impacts of pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding.
“The second parent needs leave to be able to support them through this. Crucially, the scheme relies on fathers and second parents being willing to take some of a mother’s maternity leave, which many are not prepared to do.
“All parents deserve leave they can take that doesn’t rely on new mothers giving up theirs.”
The two organisations are calling for a new policy that will give each parent individual leave, with significantly increased leave for the second parent while keeping the existing rights of mothers to 52 weeks’ maternity leave.
They also say the scheme must be open to all workers because some on zero-hour contracts and in the gig economy may not be getting access to it.
Ros Bragg of Maternity Action said: “Shared parental leave was brought in seven years ago now and it’s clear that it’s not working. Take-up is woeful.
“Our advice lines are full of parents who want to share parental leave, but confusion around the rules means that they are completely baffled.
“Add that to the low level of pay on offer and the system seems almost designed to put parents off sharing leave, rather than encourage it.
“We need a new system that financially supports fathers and second parents to care for their child, while recognising that mothers need properly paid leave in order to recover from pregnancy and birth.”