UK Policy Briefings
Autumn Budget 2021: Maternity, paternity and parental leave
Date Posted: Friday 22nd October 2021
“The birth of a first child is a pivotal moment in how couples organise responsibility for childcare throughout their lives and is foundational in forming and perpetuating gender inequality.”
UK maternity, paternity and parental leave policy design is based on an out-of-date model that does not encourage sharing of care between parents. Mothers receive up to 52 weeks of leave, 39 of which can be paid (6 at 90% of earnings and 33 at the statutory rate of £151.97 per week, which – at around 25% of median salary, is among the lowest in Europe.) Statutory paternity leave, on the other hand, comprises two weeks at the statutory rate. In the context of the pandemic, there is the potential for the disparity in leave entitlements between mothers and fathers to lead to discrimination against pregnant women when redundancy decisions are being taken.
“Statutory maternity and paternity pay rates are, in relative terms, among the lowest in Europe”
The low rate of replacement pay for paternity leave interacts with the gender pay gap, providing significant barriers to fathers using more leave. Coverage and eligibility for maternity and paternity leave is a key issue: 28% of women and men in employment do not have access to paid paternity or maternity leave at all, due to either their employment status and/or their length of service. With increasing casualisation of working arrangements, there are fears this number will rise and particularly impact some of the most vulnerable workers.
The government’s Shared Parental Leave policy is based on a transfer of maternity leave to the second parent. Research shows that ‘transfer of leave’ models have very limited impact on fathers’ take up of parental leave. ‘Default policy option’ models that provide both partners with an equal share of leave, some of which is transferable, have been shown to be more effective at promoting more gender-equal caring.
“Research shows that ‘transfer of leave’ models, such as Shared Parental Leave, have a very limited impact on fathers’ take up of parental leave. ‘Default policy option’ models are more effective at promoting gender-equal caring”
The Women’s Budget Group is calling for: an individual right to time off and pay for each parent; a system that is easy for parents to understand; an increase in statutory rates, and an earnings-linked system offering significant periods of leave at 66% or above of earnings; day-one access to paternity leave and pay and the 90% six-week rate for self-employed mothers; legal protections from redundancy during parental leave and on return to work