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Although the use of shared parental leave increased by 23 percentage points last year, only 13,100 couples applied to use the scheme last year.
The research, by commercial law firm EMW (using HMRC figures), described the scheme's use as “exceptionally low” considering it was now five years after it was introduced, and proposed that more promotion of the benefits of sharing childcare was needed.
Nearly 650,000 women claimed maternity pay last year, which meant that only 2% of eligible couples made use of shared parental leave.
The benefit allows couples with new babies to share up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of statutory shared parental pay between them, at a maximum rate of £151.20 per week.
This rate of pay is believed to be a prime candidate behind the scheme's low take-up because, said the researchers, “few couples are willing to see their primary earner’s income fall to little more than £600 a month”.
Because the primary earner is often a man, women tend to default into taking most of the childcare burden while their partners quickly return to work. This would indicate, said EMW, that if fathers were better incentivised to take on more childcare responsibilities, more women would return to work more quickly. Higher take up, it then follows, would see more women gaining promotions and higher salaries after taking maternity leave.
Separate research, published in April, found that only four in 10 fathers could afford to take shared parental leave, although more fathers were no