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Over half of men who have taken Shared Parental Leave don’t believe it is best for their child and say those taking it risk being viewed as “less of a man”


A new study released today outlines the unspoken fears of men across the nation about a lack of confidence in, and negative attitudes towards, Shared Parental Leave (SPL), with financial implications a major reason for men not taking time off with young families.

A survey commissioned by arts organisation Southbank Centre, ahead of its BAM – Being A Man festival, shows that 52% of men who have taken SPL worry that it wasn’t in the best interests of their child and 51% say men taking it run the risk of being seen as “less of a man”. Whilst 63% of men who are eligible for the leave agree that it can contribute to a child’s emotional and educational development, 33% of men who chose not to take it say they made that decision as they think their partner is the best person to look after their children.

Only 36% of those eligible for SPL have taken it and 81% of them have opted to take 15 weeks or less, compared to the 50 weeks that they are entitled to take. Fewer than two in five men who are eligible for the leave say they are aware of it, and understand it. 73% of fathers who weren’t aware of the leave would have considered taking it if they had known about it.

Nearly seventy per cent of those who chose not to take SPL (68%) say that financial implications are the main factor for refusing it and 40% of men who could take the leave feel their employer wouldn’t be likely to support their request for time off. This implies that either the gender pay gap is still an issue, driving men with higher salaries to return to work, or that many workplaces still don’t have parenting packages that equally benefit men.

Over seventy per cent (72%) of men surveyed said that creating a strong early bond with their child would be their top motivator to take SPL and 76% of men who are considering having a child say they will take this leave.

BAM- Being A Man festival runs from Friday 25 to Sunday 27 November and brings together men from across the UK to explore and challenge the pressures and perceptions of masculine identity in the 21st century. Headline acts include Sir Roger Moore, Ashley Walters (Top Boy), Grayson Perry, Christopher Eccleston (Dr Who), Professor Green, Scottee, Kele Okereke (Bloc Party), The Last Poets, Aaron Gillies, Jon Holmes, and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert Olen Butler. The panels and workshops cover such key issues as pornography, depression, video games, education, and of course dad dancing.

The survey was conducted by Bluegrass Research for BAM – Being A Man festival and was commissioned following a report by My Family Care this year claiming that as few as 1% of men take the option to share up to 50 weeks of parental leave with their partner, upon the birth or adoption of a child.

Ted Hodgkinson, Southbank Centre’s Lead Programmer for BAM, said: These findings give a stark picture of how new fathers are missing out on crucial time with their children due to fears about how parental leave is viewed by employers, and society. Without better exploring and challenging the weight of traditional expectations about men’s roles and issues more widely, in a safe space, families and society will continue to lose out.

“These statistics give us a detailed insight into the unspoken fears that shape many men’s lives, and show their power to prevent new fathers from spending crucial time with their children. They evidence the need for spaces in which concerns can be shared, in which we can challenge the weight of those traditional expectations. Because by not spending time with their children, it’s not just parent and child who lose out, but society as a whole.”

Johnny Davis, journalist and BAM panellist, said: “As well as outdated cultural reasons why men see taking time off work as frowned-upon or career-limiting, something women have faced for decades, there’s a big problem with the way Shared Parental Leave has been set up in the UK. Men still tend to be the higher-earning partner and face a financial penalty for being off work and SPL still runs as maternity leave by default – it’s up to the mother to give this right to the father, which is often perceived as the mother’s loss. For dads who do take time off work to spend time with their new baby, the environment can be daunting – a whole economy of baby yoga classes, sing-a-longs, and café drop-ins has grown up, theoretically open to men, but frequented by few. We need to create an environment where men feel welcome and engaged with other new parents.”

Jude Kelly CBE, Artistic Director, Southbank Centre, said: “It’s concerning to see so many men worried about taking this really important time with their young families and highlights, more than ever, how crucially we need greater dialogue around the difficult issues facing men and women today. Southbank Centre’s Being A Man festival set out to foster this conversation three years ago, and in that time we’ve seen men highlight issues such as as religious extremism, gang culture, promiscuity, depression, and fashion, better depicting what it really means to be a man in the 21st century.

“The transformation that men go through when becoming fathers and how society reacts to our changing concept of fatherhood will be focal points of BAM this year – issues that aren’t only relevant for men themselves, but also their partners, daughters, and sons.”

Readers are encouraged to attend BAM- Being A Man festival at Southbank Centre and participate in the conversation on modern masculinity, particularly the panel ‘The Paternity Debate’ (25 November, 12pm) exploring the findings from the BAM Shared Parental Leave Survey and the reasons behind them. Panelists include Maria Miller MP, Conservative Party politician and Chair of the Women and Equalities Select Committee; Jack Urwin, journalist and author of Man Up: Surviving Modern Masculinity; Johnny Davis, deputy editor of Esquire who has written about taking paternity leave; and Yomi Sode, poet, performer and creator of Daddy Diaries. This discussion will be chaired by Rebecca Asher, author of Man Up: Boys, Men and Breaking the Male Rules.

For the full BAM- Being a Man festival line up visit HERE


Summary of Key Findings:


  • 51% of men who have taken SPL claim men who do risk being viewed as “less of a man”
  • 52% of men who have taken SPL don’t believe it is best for the child
  • Fewer than 2/5 men are aware of, and understand SPL
  • 76% of those considering having a child say they would consider SPL
  • 36% of those surveyed who were eligible for SPL took it
  • Of those men taking SPL, 81% took only 15 weeks or less

 About Southbank Centre’s BAM Shared Parental Leave Survey


The research methodology used an online survey with a UK audience sourced via Research Now, a panel provider. The sample was all men, all employees (so eligible for SPL), aged between 18-50, all parents since April 2015 or planning to be in the next five years, and inclusive of ethnic minority backgrounds. The sample size was 503 interviews conducted with respondents living in locations across UK (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland). The data was weighted by country and socio-economics to achieve a representative sample of men aged 18-50.


About Southbank Centre


Southbank Centre is the UK’s largest arts centre, occupying a 21­ acre site that sits in the midst of London’s most vibrant cultural quarter on the South Bank of the Thames. The site has an extraordinary creative and architectural history stretching back to the 1951 Festival of Britain. Southbank Centre is home to the Royal Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room and Hayward Gallery as well as The Poetry Library and the Arts Council Collection. For further information please visit Southbank Centre. Southbank Centre is carrying out vital restoration work on the Hayward Gallery, Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room to make the buildings fit for future generations to enjoy, more information can be found here: Let The Light In


Shared Parental Leave (SPL)


Shared Parental Leave is available to all employees, man or woman, who are parents (whether by birth, adoption or surrogacy) who satisfy eligibility criteria related to their working status. Mothers or primary adopters must choose give up their entitlement and convert it into Shared Parental Leave.  A maximum of 50 weeks leave can be shared between parents. Each parent must qualify in their own right and as a result of the other parent satisfying the eligibility criteria. Pay is £139.58 a week or 90% of an employee’s average weekly earnings (whichever is lower). There is a possibility that an employer may offer more.

More information can be found here: Shared Parental Leave


 Bluegrass Research


Bluegrass is a marketing research consultancy based in the North East of England, offering a core expertise in outstanding qualitative and quantitative research to a range of clients regionally and nationally.  For further information please visit Bluegrass Research

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