While a “milestone” for gender equality, research shows that just five per cent of new fathers and eight per cent of new mothers have opted to take shared parental leave (SPL) since it was introduced in April 2015.
The research, conducted by CIPD, revealed that just over a fifth of organisations had received requests from male staff to take up shared parental leave.
In two-thirds of organisations where mothers are eligible for SPL, none have taken it at all.
More than two-thirds (68 per cent) of respondents thought more women with young children would return to work if free childcare was extended.
Currently, free childcare is only available to most children aged three and four years old.
The CIPD also revealed that just 30 per cent of organisations proactively promote flexible working options to employees who have caring responsibilities, while only 11 per cent have a childcare policy offering a range of options to working parents.
It further found that less than a third (31 per cent) of employers are aware of the Government’s new Tax-Free Childcare Scheme, launching in early 2017.
Rachel Suff, employment relations adviser at the CIPD, said: “Shared parental leave was a milestone for gender equality when it was introduced last year. The intentions were right, and on paper it gives new parents much more choice and flexibility about taking leave to look after a new baby, particularly if the mother is the higher earner and if dads want to play a bigger role in their child’s early life.
“However, the complexity of the rules and the financial gap between statutory maternity pay and statutory shared parental pay in the early weeks are clearly outweighing these positives in reality for many. Government needs to look at what steps can be taken to ensure SPL can bring a step change on the ground in the UK.”