Welcome to the second in our series of #RadicalChildcare guest blogs. Whether you are a parent / guardian, family member, pedagogue, community member, childcare practitioner or artist – whoever you are, we want to hear your stories. Whether you have experienced childcare barriers, discrimination, or have innovative ideas for what the future of childcare could look like, we’d love to share your ideas as part of #RadicalChidlcare.

This guest blog is by Dr Sarah Forbes and Dr Holly Birkett, lecturers at the University of Birmingham Business School who co-lead the Shared Parental Leave research project which aims to improve gender equality in the workplace.


The arrival of a child into one’s life is life changing. From a work perspective, it is often followed with mothers taking maternity or adoption leave, and fathers taking paternity leave. In 2015, the coalition government made another option available to parents, shared parental leave (SPL).

This new entitlement allows eligible families to share the time that is normally allocated for a mother’s maternity leave between both parents. It was expected that 2-8% of families would take up SPL – a worryingly low projection – but the actual take-up rate has been even lower. Our research starts to explain why this is the case, and uncovers a wide variety of barriers that prevent families from taking SPL.

Eligibility criteria to utilise SPL is a significant barrier faced by many families. Whether it is a minimum duration of employment or the amount a parent has earned over a specific period of time, the eligibility criteria can stop an application for SPL dead in its tracks. The eligibility criteria automatically excludes self-employed parents from SPL which prevents entrepreneurial members of society from receiving support when they are not able to work.

For eligible parents it seems like a simple choice; do we want to share the leave and both spend time with the child in the first year? In reality, the decision-making process is not that simple at all. For example, it is not a surprise to anyone that children cost money and as such, one of the first things parents think about are the financial implications. Parents considering SPL will immediately seek to understand the potential implications on their pay and for most employees SPL is not enhanced in the same way maternity leave often is. Most parents taking SPL can only expect to get paid the statutory £140.98 per week for the first nine months. The problem here is that many organisations in the UK enhance maternity pay and very few enhance shared parental pay. This acts as a golden handcuff for the mother and a barrier for the father, meaning that in many cases it would make no sense financially for parents to use SPL before their enhanced maternity leave ceases, often after four or six months.

Another key barrier experienced by parents when considering taking SPL is the way that the policy has been written. The SPL policy puts the onus on mothers to decide whether or not their family will use SPL. Interestingly, for the policy to be activated, mothers who are eligible for maternity leave (or maternity pay) would need to submit paperwork to their organisations to deduct time from their leave, allowing their partner to take SPL. This often has the effect of preventing partners from taking SPL because fathers may not feel comfortable asking their partner to reduce their maternity leave.

Finally, culturally accepted maternal and paternal identities can have a strong impact on how new parents believe they should behave and what their role should be in the family. One of the main issues preventing families from taking SPL is that fathers may desire to remain the breadwinner. Being able to financially provide for their family is what affirms the identity of many fathers. Therefore, when faced with the option to take SPL, a father could see this as going against how they define their role within the family or indeed how others might define it for them.

So, the barriers are diverse and reach way beyond the small sample above. There is the policy itself, the organisation and then there are the parents, their friends and families. We are currently undertaking a large-scale national research project to understand these and the other barriers that eligible parents face as well as creating mechanisms and interventions to break them down and significantly increase the uptake of SPL in the UK. An increase in the uptake of SPL could lead to strengthened family bonds, improved child development and increased workplace involvement for mothers.

Should Shared Parental Leave apply to the self-employed? 

At 3pm on Thursday 3rd May Holly and Sarah will be hosting a Food For Thought discussion around this topic here at Impact Hub Birmingham. To go deeper into this topic please come and share your views over cake in this interactive session, followed by an optional 1 hour focus group session with Holly and Sarah. Sign up here for free to come along.

If you’d like to write a #RadicalChildcare guest blog, please contact Amy on: amy.martin@impacthub.net

Join the conversation at #RadicalChildcare or find out more about this mission strand here.