Last week saw all the major UK press outlets leading with the (what I thought) surprising news that there had been only a 1% take up by fathers of their new right to shared parental leave with mothers since it was introduced a year ago.  The main reasons for non-participation were along the lines of: “I can’t afford to take it”, “my career progression will suffer”, and “my child’s mother is unwilling to share it with me”.  All of these are believable reasons, but the percentage take-up still seemed pretty low to me, even based purely on discussions with friends as to what they would do and, as in my case, what they would have done if they were doing it all again.

So, cue Jo Swinson, former Junior Equalities Minister in the Coalition Government, querying the figure on Radio 5 last week, pointing out that the 1% was taken as a percentage of the adult male population in general, regardless of eligibility or whether they had become a father in the last year or not. The Radio programme 4 “More or Less” picked up on the statistic, the producer of the calling it “one of the worst statistics we have ever looked at”.  The problem with the figure is that males like me are included in the calculation.  My sons were born in 1991, 2010 and 2011, when shared parental leave was probably no more than a twinkle in the eye of the legislators.  So, would I have taken up shared parental leave over the last year? Erm, of course not.

So, have we seen those startling press reports clarified in the light of the faulty conclusion drawn?  Not in such headline terms, certainly.  And there lies the danger of misleading headlines – the resulting landscape being sketched is one where “no men take shared parental leave, perhaps I shouldn’t or won’t”.  I know of one company where not so long ago fathers were ridiculed for wanting to take even their 2 week statutory (and unpaid!) paternity leave. Headlines like these don’t help change such attitudes.

Far more reassuring and hopefully accurate are the figures coming out of a recent survey by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES), which predicts a 20% rise in the number of part-time male workers by 2024 – and a 25% rise for those men in professional or management positions.  The prediction, we’re told, reflects a rise in the number of men prioritising family life, whilst it is also projected that there will be a 7% rise in women working full-time within the same timescale. Even though the survey reflects projections rather than current reality, the projected re-balance of family and work life surely further gives the lie to that 1% statistic.

Ed Gregory, Senior Associate in Employment Law.

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