UK is 'scrooge of Europe' on parental pay

Published on Monday, 18 November 2013 12:15
Written by Daniel Mason

The UK ranks last in Europe when it comes to giving new parents well-paid leave following the birth of their child, according to a TUC analysis published today.

The analysis – published to coincide with the Children and Families Bill beginning its Committee Stage in the Lords today – says that in the UK new mothers get just six weeks of statutory maternity pay at 90 per cent of their wage. Across the Channel, the European average for well-paid leave for new mothers is 43 weeks.

Under the official European definition, 'well-paid' means someone getting at least two-thirds of their pre-maternity leave earnings, or a rate of pay greater than £840 (€1000) per month.

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.

Similarly the analysis says that there's not much support available to new dads in the UK. Fathers 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, says the TUC.

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 (29 per cent) 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 can lead to a drop in their incomes and permanent damage to their career prospects, says the TUC.

The current lack of financial support for new parents is having a disproportionate effect on low-income families in the UK, says the TUC. 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, the government plans to introduce a system of shared parental leave from 2015 – but it will still be low-paid (£136 per week). Even on the government's own estimates only between 2 – 8 per cent of new fathers will be able to afford to make use of it.

As the Bill comes under scrutiny during its House of Lords Committee stage, the TUC is calling on Peers to support an amendment to be debated today establishing six weeks of better-paid leave for fathers.

Since Norway introduced and then extended a fathers' quota in the 1990s, the proportion of men taking some leave increased twenty-fold (from 4 per cent to 89 per cent). Key to its success has been pay set at 80 to 100 per cent of a father's ordinary wage.

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."

Working Families Chief Executive Sarah Jackson said: "We know from callers to our helpline and from research that families are losing out. Many fathers can't afford to take paternity leave as it is paid well below the national minimum wage.

"We're supporting the introduction of a 'father quota' based on the international evidence of what works – independent leave for fathers, and paid at adequate wage replacement levels.

"We want to encourage more fathers to share the care but it sends a poor message about valuing family time if we offer less than the minimum wage to care for new born children."

Chief Executive of the Fatherhood Institute Adrienne Burgess said: "In Iceland, reserving three months' leave for fathers in the first year and paying this at a reasonable rate, has transformed the nature of parenting.

"Icelandic fathers now take more than a third of all the leave available to parents and Iceland now ranks first in the world for equality between men and women, according to the World Economic Forum."

Source: TUC

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