The UK has come last in an analysis of paid parental leave across 27 European countries, published earlier this week by the TUC.
The analysis shows that new mothers in the UK get just six weeks of statutory maternity pay at 90 per cent of their wage. Mothers in Britain are also entitled to an additional 33 weeks’ pay but only at £136 per week – a rate which has fallen in real terms under this government. And in the UK only about one in four women receive extra occupational maternity pay from their employers.
In Europe mothers can expect to receive on average either two-thirds of their pre-maternity leave earnings or a rate of pay greater than £840 per month for a period of 43 weeks.
The analysis also points out that there is a lack of support for new dads who only receive two weeks of paternity leave, plus the right to take additional paternity pay of up to 19 weeks but all at only £136 per week. These entitlements are rarely topped up by employers.
In total the UK offers up to 41 weeks of paid leave to new parents, but this is the fifth lowest in Europe and less than half the European average of 89 weeks.
With such low rates of pay, barely one in three new fathers in the UK are able to spend longer than two weeks at home following the birth of their child. This means that mothers end up taking the majority of leave which, according to the TUC, can lead to a drop in their incomes and permanent damage to their career prospects.
The current lack of financial support for new parents also has a disproportionate effect on low-income families in the UK. Government figures show that better-paid fathers are 50 per cent more likely to take paternity leave than those on lower incomes.
As part of the Children and Families Bill which began its committee stage in the Lords this week, the government plans to introduce a system of shared parental leave from 2015, but it will still be low-paid. Even on the government’s own estimates only between two and eight per cent of new fathers will be able to afford to make use of it.
Neil Todd from Thompsons Solicitors said: “These figures demonstrate the very raw deal that new parents get in the UK compared to our European counterparts. The decision to introduce shared parental leave in 2015 is to be welcomed but far more still needs to be done.
“Too many employers remain unwilling to provide more generous occupational schemes and, with the government unwilling to put its hand in its pocket, the vast majority of working parents are going to have to continue to sacrifice important time with their new-born children in order to earn a living".
Commenting on the figures, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Unfortunately when it comes to supporting parents looking after a new baby, the UK is the scrooge of Europe.
“Countries across Europe are incredibly diverse, especially in the challenges they face, yet all of them have found ways to offer better support for new parents.
“A modest way to start turning this around would be for the government to give new fathers six weeks of well-paid leave.
“Without a properly-paid system of shared parental leave, women will continue to be forced to put their careers on hold as they continue to be the primary carers in their child’s all-important first year.”