Reform of Shared Parental Leave: pass the Senokot

While a rampant stomach bug is reported to have caused most competitors in last month’s six-day, 250km Marathon Des Sables in the Sahara a nasty bout of the runs, officials at Kwasi Kwarteng’s Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) face the opposite problem: their marathon evaluation of the chronically failing Shared Parental Leave scheme is stuck fast in the bowels of the Department.

First announced in March 2017 and underway by April 2018, the BEIS evaluation has now been in progress for 43 months, or some 1,300 days. I’ve seen dead snails move more quickly.

Way back in November 2017, the then business minister told MPs on the Women & Equalities Committee that the evaluation would be carried out “next year” – the clear implication being that it would be complete by the end of 2018. And the minister indicated it was already clear that the policy was failing. Asked about take-up by eligible fathers, she stated:

“Take‑up is disappointing. It is under 10%. I would regard 25% as successful. I would regard anything over 20% as very encouraging. We are not going to see those figures, so [our evaluation] is going to demonstrate that we have a lot more to do.”

Four years on, my latest analysis of the relevant HMRC and DWP data indicates that just 1.5% of the 2.6 million new mothers who started on statutory paid maternity leave since April 2015 used the Shared Parental Leave scheme to transfer some of that paid leave to the child’s father. In 2019/20, the fifth year of the scheme, just 8,370 (2%) of the 414,000 such mothers did so. That is simply nowhere near good enough.

No wonder no one at BEIS is reaching for the Senokot. Because, if they ever release their evaluation report, they will have to tell us what – if anything – they plan to do to remedy this colossal policy failure. And such policy remedies don’t come cheap.

About wonkypolicywonk

Wonkypolicywonk is a policy minion, assigned wonky at birth, who has been lucky enough to work for two of the very best MPs in the House of Commons, and before that at Maternity Action, Working Families, Citizens Advice, the National Audit Office, the Law Society, and Amnesty International UK.
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