1. INTRODUCTION

The Coalition Government has recently added to the plethora of legislation introduced to help people better reconcile their paid work and caring commitments (hereafter ‘reconciliation legislation’) by the previous New Labour Government. The Children and Families Act 2014 (hereafter ‘the Act’), s. 117 introduces a right to ‘shared parental leave’ (by inserting chapter 1B into part 8 of the Employment Rights Act 1996) which will be analysed in this commentary. The detailed provisions are contained in The Shared Parental Leave Regulations 2014 (which come into force on 1st December 2014).

Prior to the Act, in certain circumstances, 26 of the 52 weeks of maternity leave were transferable to another parent as additional paternity leave (Additional Paternity Leave Regulations 2010). The Act increases this entitlement, making 50 weeks transferable as shared parental leave, which can be transferred to the father, or the mother’s spouse, civil partner or partner, if both parents are eligible (The Shared Parental Leave Regulations 2014, reg. 3(1)). This will be available to parents whose expected week of childbirth begins on or after the 5th April 2015 (The Shared Parental Leave Regulations 2014, reg. 2(1)).

According to the Modern Workplaces Consultation: Government Response to Flexible Parental Leave Proposals, which preceded the legislation, one of the key aims of shared parental leave was to ‘enable working fathers to take a more active role in caring for their children and [for] working parents to share the care of their children’ (3 November 2012). The active involvement of both parents in caring for children was defined in the consultation as ‘shared parenting,’ and the stated aim of promoting shared parenting was to dismantle the gendered division of work (9). Many benefits of such a policy were identified, including the improvement of ‘children’s educational and emotional development in later life,’ when fathers are more involved in the earlier stages of childcare (7). The Government also noted that such policies would support women in maintaining a strong attachment to the workplace; if men spend more time caring, women will have more time to participate in the workplace. Achieving shared parenting would therefore reduce ‘the “gender penalty” that women suffer from taking time out of the workplace with their children’ (7). Due to the emphasis upon challenging the gendered division of labour, the consultation focused upon heterosexual families. In this commentary, I will also focus upon childcare provided by heterosexual parents in order to determine if the shared parental leave provisions are likely to challenge gender inequality and achieve any of the benefits of shared parenting.

I conclude that the scheme of shared parental leave now enshrined in the legislation is unlikely to encourage fathers to provide care. After briefly describing the legislation which preceded the 2014 Act, I will highlight the changes effected by the new legislation. I will argue that shared parenting will not be achieved because the legislation continues to prioritise the caring role of mothers, even though the long period of transferable leave symbolically recognises the caring role of other parents. I will support this argument by examining the eligibility requirements, the limited level of statutory remuneration and the need for maternal consent to access shared parental leave. As a result of these issues, it is unlikely that shared parental leave will increase the number of men taking leave to provide care. Accordingly, I argue that shared parental leave is ‘sound-bite legislation’; something that has ‘all the positive publicity and appearance of a novel and innovative right, but in reality offer[s] little of substance for the majority of working families’ (M. Weldon-Johns ‘The Additional Paternity Leave Regulations 2010: A New Dawn or More “Sound-Bite” Legislation?’ (2011) 33 Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law 25, 25. The term was coined in L. Anderson ‘Sound Bite Legislation: The Employment Act 2002 and New Flexible Working ‘Rights’ for Parents’ (2003) 32 Industrial Law Journal 37). This is because the 2014 Act appears to provide parents with choice over how the leave is taken, but in reality, the discretion remains with employers.

2. PRE-EXISTING RECONCILIATION LEGISLATION

The 2014 Act is the latest addition to the body of reconciliation legislation—an area of labour law which has changed repeatedly since the New Labour Government took office in 1997. Legislative changes have included the restructuring and extension of maternity leave; the Work and Families Act 2006 granted 12 months of maternity leave to all women, by making additional maternity leave a day one right (see G. James ‘The Work and Families Act 2006: Legislation to Improve Choice and Flexibility?’ (2006) 35 Industrial Law Journal 272). The caring role of parents other than mothers has also increasingly been recognised. Unpaid parental leave has been introduced (Employment Relations Act 1999, see A. McColgan ‘Family Friendly Frolics? The Maternity and Parental Leave etc. Regulations 1999’ (2000) 29 Industrial Law Journal 125) and recently extended so that eligible parents are now entitled to 4 months leave to provide childcare (The Parental Leave (EU Directive) Regulations 2013). The Employment Act 2002 also allowed parents the right to request flexible working, which the Children and Families Act 2014, s. 131 made available to all employees (see L. Anderson ‘Sound Bite Legislation: The Employment Act 2002 and New Flexible Working ‘Rights’ for Parents’ (2003) 32 Industrial Law Journal 37). The caring role of fathers or mothers’ partners has also been encouraged through entitlement to 2 weeks ordinary paternity leave, which was introduced by the Employment Act 2002. Additional paternity leave was later introduced, making 26 weeks of maternity leave transferable to all eligible parents, 20 weeks after the child is born if the mother has returned to work (Additional Paternity Leave Regulations 2010, see M. Weldon-Johns ‘The Additional Paternity Leave Regulations 2010: A New Dawn or More “Sound-Bite” Legislation?’ (2011) 33 Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law 25).

The introduction and extension of paternity leave and gender neutral parental rights demonstrates that legislators have increasingly recognised parenting roles other than mothering. Despite this, the reconciliation legislation has been criticised for reinforcing gender roles (see for example G. James The Legal Regulation of Pregnancy and Parenting in the Labour Market (Routledge, 2009) 41). Although research suggests that 91% of eligible fathers take some ordinary paternity leave, (J. Chanfreu, S. Gowland, Z, Lancaster, E. Poole, S. Tipping, M. Toomse Maternity and Paternity Rights Survey and Women Returners Survey 2009/10 (Department for Work and Pensions, 2011) 151) recent research found that there is a ‘stark contrast between the high take-up of ordinary (paid) paternity leave and the very low take up-of the additional paternity leave’ (S. Welfare Maternity Pay and Leave: XpertHR survey 2014 (XpertHR, 2014)). Therefore, even though fathers have been able to access more leave after the birth of their child, in practice they have continued to take only a short period of leave. Additional paternity leave has accordingly been criticised as ‘sound-bite’ legislation; it appeared to give men an opportunity to take leave, but did not enable them to do so in reality. This is partly because the legislation did not challenge gendered expectations, as mothers’ caring roles remained prioritised; only mothers have an individual entitlement to a long period of leave, irrespective of their length of service (see M. Weldon-Johns ‘The Additional Paternity Leave Regulations 2010: A New Dawn or More “Sound-Bite” Legislation?’ (2011) 33 Journal of Social Welfare & Family Law 25, 34). The right to request flexible working, the Work and Families Act 2006 and the introduction of unpaid parental leave were also criticised for giving parents little of substance to help them balance their paid work and caring commitments (see L. Anderson ‘Sound Bite Legislation: The Employment Act 2002 and New Flexible Working ‘Rights’ for Parents’ (2003) 32 Industrial Law Journal 37, G. James ‘The Work and Families Act 2006: Legislation to Improve Choice and Flexibility?’ (2006) 35 Industrial Law Journal 272 and A. McColgan ‘Family Friendly Frolics? The Maternity and Parental Leave etc. Regulations 1999’ (2000) 29 Industrial Law Journal 125).

Given that men have not accessed longer periods of leave, women have continued to provide the majority of childcare and the gendered division of labour has not been adequately challenged. Women’s association with caring roles has meant that, notwithstanding progress, women and men remain unequally situated within the workplace. Women’s responsibility for caring roles has meant that some employers have practised discrimination by viewing them as less reliable workers who are likely to be absent from the workplace. Thus Maternity Action estimate that 60,000 women leave the workplace each year due to pregnancy related dismissals, and those that return from maternity leave face problems (R. Dunstan Overdue: A Plan of Action to Address Pregnancy Discrimination Now (Maternity Action, 2013) 18–20). Women of childbearing age who are not mothers also suffer from discrimination because some employers are wary of hiring them, fearing that women will let them down by having children and consequently being absent from the workplace. Such discrimination contributes to the gender pay gap, which has recently widened to 19.7% (Office for National Statistics ‘Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings, 2013 Provisional Results’ (Office for National Statistics, 2013) 16). If the previous legislation had actually encouraged men to take leave in practice, then all employers would have had to recognise men as potential carers. This would have challenged gendered expectations and the discriminatory attitudes of some employers, as well as decreased the gender pay gap. Therefore, the 2014 Act would seem to have an admirable aim insofar as it promotes men’s caring role. In the next section, I will examine the changes the Act will introduce with the intention of achieving this vision of shared parenting.

3. SHARED PARENTAL LEAVE

Shared parental leave will enable eligible women to curtail their entitlement to maternity leave and statutory maternity pay or maternity allowance ‘at least 1 day after the end of the compulsory maternity leave period’ (The Maternity and Adoption Leave (Curtailment of Statutory Rights of Leave) Regulations 2014, reg. 6(2)), and transfer their maternity leave and pay entitlement into shared parental leave. As compulsory maternity leave is 2 weeks, 50 weeks of maternity leave can be transferred. Fathers and other parents will therefore be entitled to 52 weeks leave, less the amount of maternity leave taken by the mother (Employment Rights Act 1996, s.75F(2)). This will obviously mean that leave arrangements can be more flexible, providing parents with ‘more choice in how they care for their children’ (Modern Workplaces Consultation: Government Response to Flexible Parental Leave Proposals (November 2012) 9). Mothers will remain entitled to 52 weeks of maternity leave if they choose not to transfer it. Additional paternity leave, which made 26 weeks of maternity leave transferable under the Additional Paternity Leave Regulations 2010, has been abolished, as shared parental leave has extended the amount of transferable leave to 50 weeks (Children and Families Act 2014, s.125).

When statutory maternity pay is transferred, it will be renamed ‘statutory shared parental pay’. This pay will be available for 39 weeks minus the number of week’s statutory maternity pay or maternity allowance that have been paid to the mother (The Statutory Shared Parental Pay Regulations 2014, reg. 10(1)). To access the statutory payment, both parents must give notice and evidence about their entitlement to both their own employer and the other parent’s employer (The Statutory Shared Parental Pay Regulations 2014, reg. 6 and 7). Fathers will be able to access 4 weeks of leave which is paid at 90% of their income. This is because mothers will be able to transfer their leave 2 weeks after childbirth, meaning fathers can access 4 of the 6 weeks of maternity pay which is income related. After that, parents will be entitled to £138.18 a week, or if it is less, 90% of their earnings up until the ninth month of maternity leave. The remaining 13 weeks will be unpaid. Some employers may voluntarily choose to pay a higher rate to their employees. Evidence suggests that 55.4% of employers currently offer enhanced maternity pay, compared to 52.2% who supplement ordinary paternity pay (S. Welfare Maternity Pay and Leave: XpertHR Survey 2014 (XpertHR, 2014) and S. Welfare Paternity Pay and Leave: XpertHR Survey 2014 (XpertHR, 2014)).

To be entitled to 52 weeks of parental leave, both parents must have been employed by the same employer for 26 weeks by the fifteenth week before the expected week of childbirth (The Shared Parental Leave Regulations 2014, reg. 33(1)). This is in contrast to maternity leave, which remains a day one right for women: all pregnant employees can take maternity leave, regardless of their length of service. To transfer the maternity leave, mothers must declare that they ‘consent to the amount of leave which P[arent] intends to take’ (The Shared Parental Leave Regulations 2014, reg. 8(3)(b)(iii)). Parents must also give 8 weeks’ notice to access shared parental leave, which provides employers with enough time to arrange for the parent’s work to be reassigned or covered (reg. 8(1) and 9(1)). Each parent has to inform their own employer of their intention to take leave and detail when they plan to do so. They must also declare their eligibility and consent to the other parent’s employer (reg. 8(1) and 9(1)). Although the notice requirements are fairly prescriptive, which may deter some men from taking leave, parents can vary the 8 weeks’ notice given under reg. 8 to change the amount of leave each parent takes (reg. 11(1) and (2)). Parents can make unlimited variations to their notice to alter the amount of leave they will take, (reg. 11(6)) as long as both parents provide a written indication as to when they intend to take the leave, a description of how much leave and pay has been taken, and a declaration from the other parent that they agree (reg. 11(3)).

Parents are also granted flexibility in how they take the leave; they will be able to take shared parental leave concurrently (The Shared Parental Leave Regulations 2014, reg. 36(5)). This may help families where the mother is particularly physically affected by pregnancy and childbirth and is unable to provide care for the child or return to work. Also, parents can request that shared parental leave is taken in either continuous or non-continuous periods (Employment Rights Act 1996, s. 75F(8)). This means that employees can take leave in one continuous block, or they can return to work for periods in between their leave. To take leave non-continuously, parents must give their employer ‘a written notice which sets out the start and end dates of each period of shared parental leave requested in that notice’ (The Shared Parental Leave Regulations 2014, reg. 12(1)). Each parent can take leave in up to three non-continuous blocks if the employers agree to the pattern (The Shared Parental Leave Regulations 2014, reg. 16(1)). If employees request their leave in non-continuous blocks, employers can consent, propose alternative dates, or refuse the periods of leave requested without proposing alternative dates (The Shared Parental Leave Regulations 2014, reg. 13(2)). If the request is rejected, the leave can be taken in one continuous block (The Shared Parental Leave Regulations 2014, reg. 14(4)). Permitting employers to simply refuse the preferred dates without justification may limit how flexibly parents can take leave in reality and discourage men from taking leave. It would have been preferable if the legislation had required employers to seriously consider requests for non-continuous periods of leave. This is expected of employers when they receive a request for flexible working. The 2014 Act has changed the law in this area and dictates that employers ‘deal with the application in a reasonable manner’ and the decision must be notified within the ‘decision period’ (3 months, or the parties can agree to longer. Children and Families Act 2014, s. 132(2) and (3)). Previously, such requests could only be refused for reasons identified in the legislation, which included the burden of additional costs and the inability to re-organise work among staff (Employment Rights Act 1996, s. 80G(1)(b)). Although the list of reasons a request for flexible working could have been rejected was quite broad, research suggests that the majority of applications were fulfilled; requiring employers to consider the request may force them to recognise that flexible working is indeed possible (R. Suff Flexible Working Policies And Practice: 2013 XpertHr Survey (XpertHR, 2013)). Therefore, to make shared parental leave available more flexibly in practice, I would suggest that the Act should have required employers to consider requests for non-continuous periods of leave.

4. MORE SOUND-BITE LEGISLATION?

Making 50 weeks of leave available to both parents, if eligible, is ostensibly a positive step since both parents’ are recognised as equally able to provide childcare. By tackling gendered expectations, the 2014 Act allows parents to assess their own needs after childbirth, rather than the law prescribing roles for each parent. Men will be able to undertake caring responsibilities and women may in consequence, be given the opportunity to participate more equally in the paid workforce. If men actually use the leave, then discriminatory attitudes in the workplace could be challenged. However, if the entitlement to shared parental leave is not taken up, women’s continued association with childcare will result in persisting discrimination.

It is expected that take up of shared parental leave will be low: the Government predicts that only 2–8% of fathers will use any of the entitlement (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills Modern Workplaces: Shared Parental Leave and Pay Administration Consultation – Impact Assessment (2013) 4). The Chief Executive of the Fatherhood Institute has suggested that even this is optimistic, predicting that only 2% of fathers will use shared parental leave (House of Commons Public Bill Committee on the Children and Families Bill 2012–13, Fourth Sitting, 7 March 13, column 137). As so few men are expected to use any leave, the potential benefits of achieving shared parenting will not be realised in practice. Instead, gendered roles will be reinforced, which is likely to result in continued discrimination against women within the workplace. I have already noted that enabling employers to deny parents requests for non-continuous leave may thwart a couple’s plans for shared leave. In the rest of this commentary, I will argue that men will not access shared parental leave since the legislation has continued to prioritise care provided by mothers, so that men have not been given a genuine opportunity to take leave and women’s caring role has been reinforced.

A. Eligibility for Shared Parental Leave

Shared parental leave cannot be accessed unless both parents meet minimum eligibility requirements (The Shared Parental Leave Regulations 2014, reg. 33(1)). Their length of service determines whether parents other than mothers can take leave. In contrast, mothers can access maternity leave as a day one right. This reinforces the idea that fathers and mothers’ partners are ‘secondary parents’ (E. Caracciolo di Torella ‘New Labour, New Dads – The Impact of Family Friendly Legislation on Fathers’ (2007) 36 Industrial Law Journal 318, 320). This ideology is further emphasised by the fact that shared parental leave cannot be accessed at all unless the mother has been employed for the minimum period. In this way it is the mother’s caring role that is prioritised.

The minister responsible for shared parental leave was Jo Swinson, a Liberal Democrat MP and Minister for Employment Relations and Consumer Affairs in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills as well as the Women and Equalities Minister. In the Committee Debates she stated that shared parental leave was not made a day one right in order to give ‘employers a greater degree of certainty that any new employee they take on will not immediately be absent from the workplace on shared parental leave’ (Committee Debate: 18th Sitting House of Commons 23 April 13, Jo Swinson Column 706). She added that it was important to ‘ensure that employers are confident to take on new employees’ (Committee Debate: 18th Sitting House of Commons 23 April 13, Jo Swinson Column 707). However, I suggest that this argument risks legitimising workplace discrimination against women of childbearing age. Some employers may reason that women of childbearing age do not provide certainty because they could take maternity leave at any point. In contrast, men provide more certainty as they cannot access any leave unless they have been employed for 26 weeks. By acknowledging that employers need protection from such uncertainty, Swinson accepts discrimination against women when hiring. To challenge gender discrimination when hiring, shared parental leave should have been made a day one right. This would have presented all employees as potential carers who may need to take leave.

B. Limited Level of Payment

Research has shown that access to income related leave is particularly important if fathers are to be encouraged to take leave, because it enables them to do so without sacrificing their wage (J. Lewis and M. Campbell ‘UK Work/Family Balance Policies and Gender Equality 1997–2005’ (2007) 14 Social Politics: International Studies in Gender, State and Society 4, 14). The gender pay gap means that the majority of heterosexual families in the UK will rely upon the father’s wage to meet the costs of a new-born child. Therefore, making 4 weeks of income related leave transferable as shared parental pay is a welcome step, but it does not go far enough to encourage men to take leave. This is because the mother may in practice be unable to transfer it; research has found that ‘most women contend with several minor to moderate discomforts for weeks [after childbirth]…and some face serious problems, such as depression, that may limit daily activities for months’ (P. McGovern, B. Dows, D. Gjerdingen, C. Gross, S. Kenney, L. Ukestad, D. McCaffrey, U. Lundberg ‘Postpartum Health of Employed Mothers 5 Weeks After Childbirth’ (2006) 4 Annals of Family Medicine 159, 160). These debilitating effects of pregnancy and birth will render some mothers unable, even if willing, to transfer their leave in this period, making the 4 weeks of income related leave practically inaccessible. Therefore, the income related leave is an example of a change that appears positive, but will do little to encourage fathers to adopt caring roles in reality.

The mother’s need to recover from the physical effects of pregnancy and childbirth means that in practice fathers are more likely to access leave after 6 weeks. If the leave is paid at the statutory level, this means fathers will be entitled to £138.18 a week, or if it is less, 90% of their earnings, and the final 13 weeks will be unpaid. Some employers may voluntarily choose to provide a higher level of payment. For example, Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, has already stated that Civil Servants will be able to access shared parental pay at the same, voluntarily increased level of payment available to Civil Servants taking maternity leave (http://www.libdems.org.uk/fathers_to_get_same_maternity_pay_as_mums_in_the_civil_service accessed 22 October 14). Such voluntary increases in the level of payment are certainly positive and may encourage more men to take leave. However, only 11% of employers chose to increase the payment available for additional paternity leave (S. Welfare Maternity Pay and Leave: XpertHR Survey 2014 (XpertHR, 2014)). As shared parental leave is a transferable entitlement similar to additional paternity leave, it is predicted that few employers will provide extra payment. Therefore, it is probable that the majority of fathers will only be able to access the statutory pay.

The low level of statutory payment has been criticised as ‘pitiful’: given that it is less than the minimum wage it is expected to dissuade fathers from taking this leave, especially if they are the main breadwinner (G. James The Legal Regulation of Pregnancy and Parenting in the Labour Market (London: Routledge, 2009) 43). The costs of raising a new-born child are considerable, making the larger income of most fathers indispensable for many heterosexual families. The final 13 weeks of unpaid leave will be even less accessible. The low level of payment may also undermine some of the other legislative changes; for example, it is unlikely that it will be viable for many parents to take any leave concurrently due to financial constraints. The low levels of payment means that shared parental leave will probably only encourage fathers to take leave in families where the mother earns the largest income, or families who have enough wealth to be able to sacrifice their wages. Shared parental leave could be hugely beneficial to these families, as the child could still receive care from a parent without facing financial hardship. However, these families remain the minority. Therefore, to encourage the majority of fathers to take leave, the 2014 Act should have made income related pay available and accessible at a suitable time for the family.

C. The Need for the Mother’s Consent

Even if more employers do choose to increase the level of payment available for employees taking shared parental leave, this still may not lead to many men taking leave. This is because the roles of parents in heterosexual families remain ‘strictly prescribed,’ which inhibits parents from acting contrary to gendered expectations (A. Diduck Law’s Families (Lexis Nexis, 2003) 23). Relying on Scandinavian research that evidences that a non-transferable right to leave, paid at an income related level motivates fathers to take leave, many commentators have asserted that such a step is needed to encourage men to actually use their leave and challenge gendered expectations (see for example, G. James ‘Mothers and Fathers as Parents and Workers: Family-Friendly Employment Policies in an Era of Shifting Identities’ (2009) 31 Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law 271, 276, R. De Silva De Alwis ‘Examining Gender Stereotypes in New Work/Family Reconciliation Policies: The Creation of a New Paradigm for Egalitarian Legislation’ (2011) 18 Duke Journal of Gender Law and Policy 305, 326). Further research has found that ‘parental leave schemes that allocate some part of the leave for mothers and some for fathers will do better at avoiding statistical discrimination against women’ (L. Barclay ‘Liberal Daddy Quotas: Why Men Should Take Care of the Children, and How Liberals Can Get Them to Do It’ (2011) 28 Hypatia 163, 170). The 2014 Act did not make such an entitlement available. Instead, the legislation has reinforced mothers’ primary caring role, as mothers must declare that they ‘consent to the amount of leave which P[arent] intends to take’ (The Shared Parental Leave Regulations 2014, reg. 8(3)(b)(iii)). The whole period of leave is the mother’s to use if she wishes; fathers will only be able to access shared parental leave if the mother allows them. Therefore, mothers remain the ‘gatekeepers of fathers’ participation in care,’ dictating the role fathers can play (M. Weldon-Johns ‘The Additional Paternity Leave Regulations 2010: A New Dawn or More “Sound-Bite” Legislation?’ (2011) 33 Journal of Social Welfare & Family Law 25, 34). This again demonstrates how mothers’ caring role has been prioritised by the legislation.

Section 123(3)(a) of the Children and Families Act 2014 does include the power to extend the 2 weeks of paid ordinary paternity leave which are currently available. The Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992 s171ZE(2) is amended to read ‘ordinary statutory paternity pay shall be payable in respect of…such number of weeks, not exceeding the prescribed number of weeks, within the qualifying period, as he may choose in accordance with regulations.’ As clarified in the Explanatory Notes, this gives ‘the Secretary of State power to set the number of weeks of statutory paternity pay in regulations subject to a minimum of 2 weeks’ (Explanatory Notes Children and Families Act 2014, para 626). Although this is a positive step, this potential extension of paternity leave will still only be paid at the low flat rate of statutory paternity pay, which is £138.18 a week, or if it is less, 90% of their earnings. The leave will not be available at an income related level, which means that even if this power is used, it is unlikely to lead to a vast increase in the uptake of leave by men.

5. CONCLUSION

Shared parental leave is the Coalition Government’s contribution to the reconciliation legislation. It has gained positive publicity because it symbolically takes a step towards equalising parents’ caring role by enabling fathers to provide more childcare. However, making 50 weeks of maternity leave transferable is unlikely to encourage many fathers to take leave; only families where the mother earns the larger income will be provided with any incentive to do so. For the vast majority of families, shared parental leave will not enable fathers to take any leave to provide care. The Government itself acknowledges that the expected uptake of shared parental leave by fathers is extremely low; only between 2 and 8% of fathers are expected to take any leave. This indicates that the legislation does not do enough to achieve shared parenting.

I have demonstrated that to achieve shared parenting, fathers or the mother’s partner must be entitled to a non-transferable, day one right to leave, which is income related. Throughout the Parliamentary debates, the Government resisted such changes due to financial restraints. However, I would suggest that most of the costs could be recouped by increasing women’s participation in the paid workforce, as their underutilisation is estimated to cost the UK between £18 and £23 billion a year (Equality and Human Rights Commission Policy Briefing: EU Pregnant Workers Directive (2010) 12). Moreover, employers face higher costs when maternity leave is taken for over 6 months, which could be reduced if men took more leave (Fatherhood Institute Fatherhood and the Childhood and Families Taskforce: A Briefing by the Fatherhood Institute (2010) 5).

As the Act is unlikely to encourage fathers to care, women will continue to be associated with caring, which means that the gender pay gap will remain wide and some women will remain subjected to discrimination within the workplace. Although shared parental leave appears positive, because men have not been provided a genuine opportunity to provide childcare, the majority of families will not benefit. While fathers may well wish to care, shared parental leave is yet more sound-bite legislation.