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Parental Leave: Statutory Pay

Volume 788: debated on Tuesday 9 January 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to equalise statutory pay received for shared parental leave by people of any gender.

My Lords, shared parental leave and pay are provided to enable working couples to share childcare responsibility in the first year. The scheme was introduced by the coalition Government for the parents of children who are due or placed for adoption from April 2015. We will evaluate its effectiveness this year.

I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer. The shared parental leave rights, which were introduced under the coalition Government, as the Minister says, allow fathers to switch childcare duties with the mother during that first year. However, fathers get the basic maternity pay but, with only a few notable exceptions, not the enhanced maternity pay that the mother is entitled to. Unsurprisingly, take-up by fathers has been less than 1%. Will the Minister have a look at this, especially in light of the court case, Snell v Network Rail? Dads are being discriminated against, and they deserve equal rights too.

My Lords, in the main, the pay and leave are both set at the same rate. Obviously, mothers get a slightly higher rate in that they are in receipt of statutory maternity pay for the first six weeks at that higher rate. Understandably, fathers, not being mothers, are not eligible for that SMP. But other than that, the leave and the pay are equal for all. As I said, we will evaluate the scheme later this year and come to conclusions. As regards the take-up rate, we are not entirely sure exactly what it is but we think it is broadly in line with the estimates that were made at the time of its introduction.

My Lords, it seems that the take-up rate is minuscule. When the Government evaluate the scheme, will they take note of all the growing cross-national evidence which shows that the only way significantly to increase fathers’ take-up of parental leave is through an independent right to a non-transferable fathers’ leave, paid at a decent rate, as recommended by, for example, the Women and Equalities Committee? This is the way to change both culture and behaviour around shared childcare.

My Lords, as I said, the take-up rate is on the low side; we do not know the precise figures but we reckon that they are broadly in line with the original estimates. Again, as I said, we will evaluate—that is what we promised to do, and we will do it this year. I do not think that the noble Baroness would expect me, in advance of that evaluation, to come to any conclusions about what might be the best way to improve that take-up rate.

Will the Minister consider putting pressure on some of the European Union member state embassies in London? Our legislation, which is good and generous for maternity and paternity leave, is not replicated by those embassies, and it seems a little peculiar.

My Lords, I am sure that staff in all the embassies in London will take note of what my noble friend has said. This is good legislation. We want it to succeed and to have its effect, but we also want to evaluate how it works and to see how it can be improved. That is what we will do later this year, and I am sure that our colleagues in the European Union will take note of any changes that we make.

My Lords, I think that success would look like fathers and mothers being able to take the appropriate leave with the appropriate support so that they could manage those early weeks and months with a newborn child and properly adapt their lives. That is what we are trying to do with the original proposals for shared parental pay and leave, and that is why we want to improve them.

Does the Minister recall that, when parental leave was first put on the agenda in Brussels, his party was very much opposed to it? It has been demonstrated in the last 15 years that this is a very useful and progressive part of our industrial system but that, as with other things agreed on a common basis across Europe—from pro rata to different types of atypical workers, as well as the gender question—it needs fairly strict rules to make it effective.

My Lords, I do not recall what the noble Lord asks me to recall but I can say that this scheme was introduced by this Government—or, rather, by the previous, coalition Government. It is working reasonably well but with a very low take-up. I said in earlier answers that we obviously want to look at that to see whether it can be improved so that it can benefit more people and more couples.

My Lords, until the Government get to grips with shared parental leave, perhaps they can take a look at the equal pay situation between men and women, which is still woefully inadequate. Will the Minister have a look at, say, Iceland, which is also led by a female Prime Minister? She has enshrined in law equal pay for men and women in the public and private sectors.

My Lords, the noble Baroness is going slightly wider than the original Question on the Order Paper, which relates to shared parental leave. However, I am very happy to say that, like Iceland, we have a female Prime Minister, and long may that continue.

What would the Minister see as a successful take-up rate for males? Would it be 50%, 60%, 70% or 80%? Can he give an estimate of what the government policy is intended to deliver?

No, my Lords. I have made it quite clear that we want to evaluate the system and, as I said in answer to one of the noble Lord’s colleagues, to see how it can benefit as many people as possible. It is benefiting some at the moment. Take-up is relatively low but broadly in line with what we originally estimated it to be. We want to see whether that can be improved so that more can benefit from it, but obviously we also want to take into account the costs to the taxpayer involved in any changes to the scheme.