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uk statutory maternity pay header

UK statutory maternity pay amongst worst in Europe

New research from the TUC has found that statutory maternity pay for mothers in the UK is one of the worst in Europe currently. Of all the countries in Europe, only Ireland and Slovakia have worse entitlements which are described as ‘decently paid’, the trade union found.

The decently paid threshold is defined as two-thirds of a woman’s currently salary or more than £840 per month. The government defended itself against these findings by stating that the UK’s maternity system is one of the most generous in the world with mothers able to take up to 39 weeks of guaranteed pay, nearly three times the EU minimum requirement of 14 weeks.

Currently most women in the UK are entitled to 52 weeks maternity leave with statutory maternity pay for eligible women paid at 90% of their weekly wage for the first six weeks. For the remaining 33 weeks, pay is set at £139.58 a week or 90% of their weekly wage, whichever figure is lower. Women who earn less than £112 a week are currently not eligible for statutory maternity pay but they can claim maternity allowance instead.

To avoid mothers having to return to work earlier than planned, the TUC feels that statutory maternity pay should at least be as much as minimum wage. General Secretary of the TUC, Frances O’Grady, feels that the UK is not doing well enough to support new mothers; “Many European countries offer decent support to new mums, but lots of parents here are forced back to work early to pay the bills.”

Some companies have generous maternity schemes in place but a significant majority of women only receive statutory maternity pay. Although the UK has a long period of maternity leave in comparison to most other countries, the amount mothers are paid is a lot lower in comparison and pay drops off very quickly.

uk statutory maternity pay content

As a result, the TUC isn’t just fighting for better pay for mothers on maternity leave but also to make shared parental leave easier and more flexible so fathers can contribute to the important first months of their child’s life. They feel that it would be better if parents can take shared parental leave in smaller chunks rather than all at once so they can easily fit their new home life around their work.

Many trade unions feel that it is important to make shared parental leave more flexible and standardise pay for both men and women in order to make it a more attractive and beneficial scheme for parents across the UK. So far, take up of shared parental leave has been very low with only 1% of eligible working fathers taking the scheme up so far.

The policy which was introduced two years ago gives parents the right to split up to 52 weeks of leave between them with up to 39 weeks covered by statutory shared parental pay. Although there is financial support in place, for many it is not enough to cover the loss of earnings from both parties which means that many fathers cannot afford to take their shared parental leave time.

The research into shared parental leave by Working Families found that 48% of new fathers would not take up their parental leave right with a third stating it was because they could not afford to do so. Sarah Jackson, chief executive of Working Families, commented on the report’s findings; “Families are unlikely to make use of SPL unless it makes financial sense for them to do so. The government should consider equalising statutory maternity pay and shared parental pay to prevent SPL being a second-class option and encourage more fathers to use it,”

With uptake so low, the scheme is at risk of failing unless the government looks into bridging the gap for statutory paternity pay to making shared parental leave a better option. Many fathers have spoken at an inquiry by the women and equalities select committee to point out that having to keep family finances as stable as possible means they cannot afford to take time away from work to look after their children.

As a result, women are still taking on the lion’s share of staying home to look after the children and taking a longer maternity leave, despite the loss of earnings, to prolong the inevitability of having to pay expensive childcare costs.

References and further reading

Header Image – Tesco Baby Club

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