Insurance company Aviva has reported continued high take-up of its equal parental leave policy – a benefit that has now been taken up by more than 2,500 people at the company.
Half of those taking equal parental leave were men, according to Aviva, with the average length of paternity leave at 24 weeks, up three weeks since 2018.
Over the same period, the average length of maternity leave has decreased slightly, from 45 weeks in 2018 to 43 weeks in 2021.
A significant number of employees have taken equal parental leave more than once, including 131 men who have taken it twice.
The company has offered up to one year of parental leave, with 26 weeks at full basic pay, since 2017. It is available to full- and part-time employees and to those undergoing surrogacy or adoption processes.
Aviva’s figures are released as the TUC estimates that statutory maternity pay has dropped by £5 in real terms since 2010/11.
The union body claims that the statutory maternity pay rate of £151.97 a week is “miserly”, while parents who return to work then have to cope with “sky-high childcare fees” – average nursery costs have increased by 44% since the Conservatives took office.
General secretary Frances O’Grady said: “New mums are caught in a catch 22. The UK’s miserly rate of statutory maternity pay means many are under financial pressure to return work early and are then at the mercy of sky-high childcare fees.
“The government has done little to support the childcare sector – even when nurseries were forced to close during the pandemic.
Cutting staffing ratios is the last thing we need. It would just put more pressure on underpaid and undervalued childcare workers.
“We need a proper funding settlement for early-years childcare that delivers decent pay and conditions for the workforce and high-quality care.”
Aviva chief people officer Danielle Harmer said supporting employees to spend time with their babies during the early weeks had had a positive impact on their mental wellbeing. “Equal parental leave has been literally life-changing for our people,” she said.
The impact on male workers had also been hugely beneficial, she added. “Men taking parental leave have a better understanding of the choices female colleagues have to make when balancing parenting with their career, which makes them more empathetic colleagues and leaders too.”
Statutory shared parental leave, where employees can share up to 50 weeks of leave and up to 37 weeks of pay between them and a co-parent, has experienced low take up since it was launched in 2015.
An analysis of HMRC figures in 2020 found that only 13,100 parents applied for the scheme in the previous year, compared with about 650,000 women taking maternity leave.