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Maternity leave: still poor

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shared parental leave, statutory maternity pay, maternity allowance, UK, 22nd of 24, not goodThe UK ranks 22nd out of 24 of the European countries offering statutory maternity leave.

The UK’s mothers get one of the lowest amounts of ‘decently-paid’ maternity leave in Europe, according to new TUC analysis published just before Mother’s Day 2017 – on 26 March.

While mothers in the UK only get six weeks’ decently-paid maternity leave, most European countries offer three months or more.

According to the BBC’s report, the European league table of ‘decently paid’ maternity leave the UK comes 22nd out of 24 – 0nly mothers in Ireland and Slovakia have worse decently-paid entitlement.

Croatia comes top, with six months; Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic are next, with more than four months and Estonia, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Denmark, France, Malta, and Switzerland offer more than three months.

Iceland, Norway, Portugal and Sweden have a different system which does not distinguish between maternity leave and general parental leave that can be used by either parent.

As things stand, in the UK most employed mothers are entitled to 52 weeks of maternity leave and 39 weeks of statutory maternity pay or Maternity Allowance.

Statutory maternity pay (SMP) is usually paid as follows: 90 per cent of their average weekly earnings (AWE) before tax for the first 6 weeks; £139.58, or 90 per cent of their average weekly earnings, whichever is lower, for the remaining 33 weeks.

However, women who earn under £112 a week are not eligible for statutory maternity pay but may instead be eligible for Maternity Allowance. Currently there are 1.4 million women employees earning less than £112 a week according to the Labour Force Survey for 2016 Q4.

Since April 2015 mothers have been able to convert some of their maternity leave and pay into Shared Parental Leave (SPL), which they or their partner can take on a more flexible basis in the first year of their child’s life.

However Shared Parental Leave is unpaid and the take-up so far has been very low, with just 1 per cent of new dads requesting to use it in its first year:

The TUC wants the government to:

1 – Increase statutory maternity pay (SMP) and Maternity Allowance to the same level as the minimum wage so mothers aren’t forced to go back to work before they are ready.

2 – Increase shared parental pay and paternity pay to the same level as the minimum wage.

The TUC believes a lack of money shouldn’t be the main factor in making decisions about who looks after a new baby.

If maternity pay goes up without paternity pay going up too, it will never make economic sense for dads to stay at home to share childcare.

3 – Help self-employed mums by paying maternity allowance at an equivalent rate for first 6 weeks as earning-related rates for SMP.

4 – Make shared parental leave (SPL) more flexible.

The TUC has consistently called for SPL to be available as smaller chunks of leaves to allow parents to phase their return to work.

For parents who can’t afford to take the full leave entitlement, this would at least smooth the return to work and allow for a period of part time working.

The TUC’s General Secretary, Frances O’Grady, 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.

“My advice to all new mums is to join a union,” she said: “It is the best way to improve your pay and conditions.”

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