UK ranks low for paid parental leave

A new UNICEF ranking of wealthier countries shows the UK near the bottom for paid parental leave.

UK Maternity pay and leave

Maternity pay and leave is a minefield and many working mums continue to be confused

The UK ranks 28th amongst rich and middle-income countries when it comes to a range of family-friendly policies, according to a UNICEF report.

The report based on figures from 2017 shows the UK is eighth bottom out of 41 high- and middle-income OECD and EU countries when it comes to the number of weeks of paid leave for mothers [maternity and parental leave] and the amount of leave paid at the full-rate equivalent.

Paid maternity leave, which typically starts just before childbirth, tends to be short, averaging 18 weeks across the OECD and 22 weeks across EU. In 14 of the 41 countries maternity leave is fully paid for an employee on average earnings, although the calculation varies across countries. Some countries pay 100 per cent of the mother’s previous earnings up to a cap. Some have no cap. Others have a flat rate. The UK pays six weeks at 90% of wages and then 33 weeks at a low flat rate.

Estonia is at the top. Female employees on average wages in Estonia can take job-protected leave around the birth of a child and continue to receive their full salary until the child is 18 months old (comprising 20 weeks of fully paid maternity leave plus the first 62 weeks of parental leave paid up to a ceiling). The payment then drops to 38 euros per month until the end of parental leave around the child’s third birthday. The top 15 countries are in the EU. The US is at the bottom, offering no paid maternity leave.

When it comes to paid childcare leave reserved solely for dads [ie excluding shared parental leave], the UK is 14th bottom, offering just one-two weeks of fully paid leave. Nine countries ranked have no paid paid paternity leave, including the US. Of the 41 countries surveyed, 26 offer paid paternity leave compared with 40 that offer paid maternity leave. Paid paternity leave tends to be shorter than maternity leave (usually 1–2 weeks) but it is often paid at a higher rate.

Japan offers the longest entitlement to paid leave for fathers, the full-rate equivalent of 30 weeks. Only 5.14 per cent of eligible fathers took paid leave in 2017, up from 1.56 per cent in 2007. A 2017 survey indicated that 45 per cent of male employees on regular contracts with children under three did not want to take the leave. Another 35 per cent said they would like to use the paternity leave but could not do so. Those who did not take leave cited various reasons, including understaffing, ‘unfavourable atmosphere’, workload, pay loss and career impediment.

The UK ranks lowest for breastfeeding for over six months. Fewer countries are ranked for childcare and the UK is in the middle for the number of pre-school children three and over who are enrolled in childcare. However, it ranks highest for the percentage of parents with children under three years old who say that affordability is the main reason for not making some or more use of formal childcare services.


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