British mums receive one of the lowest paid maternity leaves in Europe, according to new analysis by the Trades Union Congress (TUC).

Of the 24 European countries offering statutory maternity leave, the UK ranks 22 - offering mums six weeks of “decent” paid leave, which the TUC describes as “time off paid at two-thirds of women’s pre-maternity leave earnings or more, or a rate of pay greater than £840 per month”.

Women in the UK are entitled to up to a year of maternity leave, but receive 90 per cent of their previous pay for six weeks after the birth before that drops to £140 a week, or continues at 90 per cent if that is lower, for the next 33 weeks.

According to the TUC, only new mums in Ireland and Slovakia have a worse deal with mums not getting any decently-paid time off. Croatia leads the way with women receiving at least two thirds of their previous pay for six months. In Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic they receive this amount for at least four months, while in Estonia, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Denmark, France, Malta and Switzerland it lasts for more than three months.

The TUC is campaigning for the government to increase statutory maternity pay and maternity allowance, which is offered to the lowest-paid women, to the level of the minimum wage. It is also calling for paternity leave to increase to the same level, so money does not become the deciding factor in decisions about who looks after a new baby.

Caroline Underhill, practice lead for Thompsons’ equal pay team, welcomed the TUC’s efforts to raise the issue: “Unfortunately, far too many parents reading this will be unsurprised by the TUC’s findings. While the length of maternity leave offered to mothers in Britain is admirable, the reality is that many are unable to take advantage of the opportunity to spend more time with their new child because bills need to be paid and they simply can’t manage on statutory maternity pay or allowance. Fathers end up working extra hours to make up for the loss in the mother’s pay instead of being able to participate in caring for the new child.

“While there are good employers out there who do offer better maternity packages than the minimum required by law, there are many more offering the bare minimum and others offering even less.

“Inadequate maternity and paternity pay limits parents’ choices and places many new parents under financial stress at a time when their focus should be the wellbeing of their child and their family. The TUC’s findings should be a wake-up call for the government to look again at this matter, urgently.”