28 November 2013
The UK has been dubbed the “scrooge of Europe” by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) after analysis by the organisation revealed parental pay in the country is the worst in the continent.
Norway came top of the table, offering new mums and dads a total of 35.4 months of well-paid leave – defined as at least two-thirds of pre-leave earnings, or greater than £840 per month – compared with just 1.4 in the UK, well below the European average of 9.9.
When all paid leave, including that below this standard, is accounted for, mothers in the UK can take 9.5 months off, less than half of the European average of 20.6.
New mothers in the UK are entitled to only six weeks of statutory maternity pay at 90% before 33 weeks of leave at a tiny £136 per week – around £77 less per week than net earnings on minimum wage*.
What’s more, this meagre income has fallen even further in real terms under the Coalition’s leadership, and only 25% of women receive extra support from their employers in the form of occupational maternity pay.
The situation is also dire for new fathers, who receive just two weeks of paternity pay at £136 per week followed by the right to take additional leave of up to 19 weeks at the same rate. Employers rarely add to this. Unsurprisingly, only 29% of new fathers are able to take the leave they are entitled to, and the better-paid are 50% more likely to take time off than those on low incomes.
General Secretary of the TUC Frances O’Grady said: “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.”
The current situation means that for the vast majority of Britons it is impossible to uphold gender equality in the home when it comes to childcare. Women are left with a disproportionate amount of responsibility for raising infants, which often leads to their incomes falling below those of men and their careers being held back.
It is known that making it easier for parents to share childcare promotes greater equality in the workplace and at home, and is a significant factor in reducing the gender pay gap. However, in its new Children and Families Bill, the government dropped plans to provide “use it or lose it” parental leave for fathers and instead suggested a complex system through which parents can share low-paid leave following the birth of a child.
International evidence has demonstrated that providing “use it or lose it” leave to fathers is highly effective in encouraging men to take time off work to help with childcare. Indeed, the proportion of men in Norway taking parental leave has increased twenty-fold since the nation introduced and then extended a quota of leave for fathers in the 1990s. As many as 89% of fathers now take parental leave in the country, compared with 4% before the legislation was brought in.
Meanwhile, Iceland has become first in the world for gender equality, according to World Economic Forum data, after reserving three months’ well-paid leave for new fathers to be taken in their child’s first year, Chief Executive of the Fatherhood Institute Adrienne Burgess noted.
What’s more, the Coalition’s Children and Families Bill chooses not to raise statutory parental pay for UK parents, leaving it at the abysmal £136 per week. Parents will only be able to share their leave in weekly blocks, and it is thought employers will insist that each parent’s allotted leave be taken off in one lump. This means parental leave will remain inflexible and unrealistic for new parents, who would be better served if both mothers and fathers could opt to cut down to part-time work following the birth of a child to share the care of the infant on a regular basis.
It’s no wonder the government’s own estimates predict that only 2-8% of fathers will be able to take advantage of the new legislation.
Sarah Jackson, Chief Executive of Working Families, said: “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.”
The Institute of Employment Rights (IER) believes introducing well-paid “use it or lose it” leave for fathers, and increasing statutory parental pay to a rate families can realistically live on will significantly increase gender equality in the UK, with highly beneficial knock-on effects for society and the economy.
By insisting that parents receive poverty pay and fathers are not provided with a decent chance to take responsibility for childcare, the Coalition is holding the UK back and allowing us to fall embarrassingly behind our European peers.
The Children and Families Bill will be scrutinised in the Lords this week and on Wednesday the IER will be discussing this and other urgent equality issues at our Equality and Discrimination conference in London. The UK’s leading experts, including Chair of the Equal Rights Trust Sir Bob Hepple will debate the precarious state of equality in the UK and what can be done to promote our rights.
There are still a few seats remaining. Book here now
*Based on calculations by iCalculator