From the TUC

A Mother’s Day present Mums will really appreciate

24 Mar 2017, by in Equality

With Mother’s Day approaching on Sunday, many of us will be trying to find the perfect gift for our hard-working mums or mother figures. Flowers, chocolates and perfume normally fit the bill.

But if Ministers were thinking about really rewarding working mums this Mothering Sunday, then they might want to review our current maternity pay entitlement.

How does our maternity pay compare to the rest of Europe?

Analysis published by the TUC today (Friday) reveals that UK mums get one of the lowest amounts of decently-paid maternity leave in Europe.

The UK ranks a pretty desperate 22 out of 24 amongst European countries that offer statutory maternity leave.

While mums in the UK only get six weeks’ decently-paid maternity leave, most European countries offer at least three months or more:

  • 6 months: Croatia
  • More than 4 months: Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic
  • More than 3 months: Estonia, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Denmark, France, Malta and Switzerland.

While the UK has a relatively generous period of maternity leave compared to other countries, the leave isn’t decently-paid – that is to say paid at two-thirds of women’s pre-maternity leave earnings or more – for long.

The only European countries offering less decently-paid maternity leave than the UK are Ireland and Slovakia.

And this lack of decently-paid leave is a real problem for working mums. Without adequate maternity pay, women’s choices are really limited and many cannot afford to take their full maternity leave entitlements. Unions are regularly hearing from parents in low-paid work like retail and hospitality that they are being forced back to work early just to pay the bills.

What is the current paid maternity leave entitlement in the UK?

In the UK, most employed mothers are entitled to 39 weeks’ Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) or Maternity Allowance. SMP for eligible women is usually paid at 90% of their average weekly earnings (AWE) before tax for the first 6 weeks, then at£139.58 or 90% of their AWE (whichever is lower) for the next 33 weeks. Although some employers do thankfully offer above and beyond this basic minimum.

But this amount falls way behind national minimum wage levels and means SMP fails to fulfil its purpose as an adequate wage replacement. From next weekend (1 April) the minimum wage will be £7.50/hr for over 25s, so £262.50 for a 35-hour week – nearly double the current SMP entitlement. Families can’t genuinely use this amount to cover their rent/mortgage and food – let alone other bills they incur.

And women who earn under £112 a week are not even eligible for SMP. There are currently 1.4 million women employees earning less than this amount (Source: Labour Force Survey, 2016 Q4).

What should the government do?

Decently paid maternity, paternity and parental leave helps new mums and dads share caring responsibilities for new arrivals and gives them time to bond with their children.

The government should give mums and dads a real boost and:

  • Increase SMP and Maternity Allowance to at least the same level as the minimum wage so mums aren’t forced to go back to work before they’re ready.
  • Increase the value of shared parental pay and paternity pay in the same way. 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.
  • Help self-employed mums by paying maternity allowance at an equivalent rate for first 6 weeks as earning-related rates for SMP.
  • Make shared parental leave (SPL) more flexible. Making SPL 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.