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As Shared Parental Leave is set to become law in April, a survey by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has found that more than half of the UK believes that childcare should be shared equally between parents.
The findings reveal a marked move away from the old attitude that the bulk of childcare responsibilities should be borne by the mother.
Some 53 per cent of those questioned said that childcare should be the equal responsibility of both parents, while a further 22 per cent believe that a couple should have the right to choose how they divide caring responsibilities, depending on their circumstances.
Just under a quarter of more than 2,000 adults surveyed believe that childcare should be the mother’s main responsibility, with more than half of men thinking that childcare should be shared equally, compared to 50 per cent of women.
The research was carried out ahead of the introduction of Shared Parental Leave (SPL), which will apply to parents of babies born or adopted from 5 April 2015. The new rules mean that parents can split 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay between them in the baby’s first year. SPL also lets parents suggest a flexible pattern of leave to their employer and allows for up to three separate blocks of leave, but employers can agree to more.
Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg said: “We know that mums and dads want more flexibility and choice when it comes to juggling their home and work lives and we’re listening and taking action.
“That’s why we’ve introduced Shared Parental Leave so that parents can make their own decisions about how to raise their family, whether it’s giving women the choice to go back to work earlier or men the opportunity to spend more time with their children.”
When parents were questioned as part of the survey, two-thirds said that they would have considered sharing parental leave if it had been available at the time. This was higher among fathers, of whom threequarters said they would have considered it compared with 63 per cent of women.
For those considering having children in the future, four in five said they would consider taking Shared Parental Leave when they became parents.
Employment relations minister Jo Swinson said: “Becoming a parent is an amazing, life-changing event. Helping new parents negotiate the balance between their work and family responsibilities will benefit employers through greater staff retention and loyalty.
“This survey shows people are rejecting dated stereotypes about the roles of men and women. Parenting is a shared endeavour and couples want more flexibility when they are adapting to the demands of a new baby. “Shared Parental Leave will let couples choose how to share their childcare responsibilities in whatever way works best for them, and enable both parents to spend time developing that vital bond with their baby in the early stages.”
When men were asked what they thought the main benefits of shared parental leave would be, six in ten said they thought they would form a closer bond with their child. However almost half (44 per cent) said it would feel fairer, and more than a third (39 per cent) said they could let their partner get back to their job or progress their career.
Over half of men (57 per cent) surveyed thought that being more involved in the baby’s life would be a good thing for their whole family, and around a third felt it would strengthen their relationship with their partner.
For Brendan Lynch, a 31-year-old legal caseworker from Cardiff, took three months of leave to care for his son Isaac, while his wife Laura went back to works, bonding was the main benefit. He said: “The bond you get with your child is the best thing about it. Getting to experience looking after a child full-time is invaluable – I understand his likes and his personality so much better. Within the three months I was looking after him he had changed so much.”