UK ‘lags behind most of Europe’ on maternity pay

UK mothers receive one of the lowest amounts of ‘decently paid’ maternity leave in Europe, according to new analysis by the TUC. With the UK ranking 22 out of 24 European countries that offer statutory maternity leave, only mums in Ireland and Slovakia have worse ‘decently paid’ entitlements. The TUC defines ‘decently paid’ as two-thirds of a woman’s salary, or more than £840 a month.



Women in the UK receive 90 per cent of their previous pay for the first six weeks after their child’s birth. That falls to £140 a week (or continues at 90 per cent, if that is lower) for the next 33 weeks, with tax and national insurance deducted. There is no statutory pay after 39 weeks.



Most European countries offer substantially more. Croatia offers six months’ decently paid leave, and Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic all offer more than four months’ decently paid leave. Working mothers in Ireland and Slovakia don’t receive any decently paid leave, said the TUC.



TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady urged the government to increase statutory maternity pay and maternity allowances to the level of the minimum wage. She said: “The UK is in the relegation zone when it comes to decently paid maternity leave. Many Europeans countries offer decent support to new mums. But lots of parents here are forced back to work early to pay the bills.”



The director of Maternity Action, Ros Bragg, also called for more government investment in support for pregnant women and new families: “Without adequate maternity pay, women’s choices are limited and many cannot afford to take their leave entitlements. The vast majority of lower-paid and lower-skilled jobs do not come with contractual maternity pay. “The UK stands out as having a relatively long period of maternity leave but a relatively low amount of pay. [At] the beginning of the maternity leave is exactly when it is most useful.”



CIPD research from early 2013 found that 58 per cent of employers offered enhanced maternity and paternity pay, said CIPD reward adviser Charles Cotton. But Cotton added that government and employers needed to be careful not to fixate on maternity pay alone. “Childcare is notoriously expensive – even with the government’s introduction of 30 free hours of care – and that has implications for female participation in the labour market,” he said. “There needs to be a joined-up approach, looking at everything from childcare to training and development and careers advice in schools. Focusing on just one element, such as maternity pay, might mean you don’t get your bang for your buck of investment.”



The TUC analysis, backed by the Leave Network – an international group that analyses and researches parental leave policies – was published just days after experts urged a House of Commons committee to ‘make’ new fathers take parental leave. Professor Tina Miller of Oxford Brookes University told MPs: “Mothers and fathers don’t make decisions about who takes leave from a level playing field – it’s gendered; it’s historically unequal.”



Meanwhile, consultancy Accenture has released new data showing that – despite the gender pay gap being strongly associated with motherhood – there may be career benefits in juggling motherhood and work. Mothers over the age of 39 were found to be more likely to have been promoted more often than child-free peers their age, and 82 per cent of career fast-track women it surveyed were mothers.



The report, Getting to equal 2017, found that fast-track women reassessed their priorities after having children; 80 per cent said they were less ambitious when their children were young. But, two-thirds (67 per cent) of fast-track women said they took part in continuous learning to help aid their career progression.



There was further good news for mums ahead of mother’s day on 26 March in the UK – more than half (55 per cent) of UK workers surveyed recently by CV-Library admitted turning to their mum to help decide whether or not to accept a job offer. Workers said their mums had also helped them understand the importance of work experience (54 per cent), decide what subjects to study (39 per cent) and choose a career path (35 per cent).




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