Only 13,100 couples applied to use the shared parental leave scheme last year, as use of the scheme remains “exceptionally” low five years after it was introduced.
According to commercial law firm EMW, despite the number of couples using the scheme increasing by 23% in the last year, the scheme is still only being used by a fraction of parents who could benefit from it.
As nearly 650,000 women claimed maternity pay last year, this means only 2% of eligible couples made use of shared parental leave.
The firm said shared parental leave allows couples with newly born 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.
The low pay rate is a major contributor to low take-up of the scheme, as few couples are willing to see their primary earner’s income fall to little more than £600 a month. As the primary earner is often a man, this results in women ‘defaulting’ into taking a large majority of the childcare burden while their partners quickly return to work.
EMW said: “If the scheme were improved financially to encourage more couples to make use of the scheme it could help to eliminate the gender pay gap. If fathers are better incentivised to take on a greater share of childcare responsibilities, it will make it easier for more women to return to work more quickly.”
It added: “Shortening the mid-career break that many women are forced to take is likely to result in fewer women seeing slower salary progression after taking maternity leave.”