The Trades Union Congress (TUC) deems maternity pay decent if it is equal to at least 66.67% of a woman’s earnings before maternity or more than £840 monthly. In this regard, British maternity pay ranks very poorly in Europe and among other developed countries.
A recent TUC report shows that British mothers get just one and a half months worth of decent maternity pay during their maternity leave. This ranks Britain third worst in the entire euro zone in regards to paternal benefits. The most recent TUC report shows that British mothers are only ahead of Ireland and Slovakia in regards to paternal benefits.
Under current UK laws, women can take 12 months of maternity leave. In such a case, one qualifies for 39 weeks of paid leave. For the first six weeks, mothers are entitled to 90% of their current salary. Their entitlement then drops significantly to approximately £140 a week which is way below Britain’s minimum wage according to Trades Union Congress.
The below average maternity pay has forced many UK mothers back to work earlier than is recommended just to make ends meet. This is according to the TUC General Secretary, Frances O’Grady. O’Grady states that Britain is in the ”relegation zone” in regards to reasonably paid maternity leave.
While UK mothers struggle to survive on minuscule maternity pay, go back to work a few weeks after giving birth or consider surviving on short-term debt like payday loans, their counterparts in Croatia enjoy six months of decently-paid maternity leave according to the TUC. Croatia has the best parental benefits. Hungary follows closely with over 5.5 months of decently-paid maternity leave.
The Czech Republic and Poland rank third and fourth in the list of countries with the best maternity pay. Estonia, Italy, and Spain have all tied in the fifth spot with 3.7 months of decently-paid maternity leave each.
What’s more interesting is UK mothers are below their Bulgaria counterparts regardless of the fact that Bulgaria is among the poorest countries in Eastern Europe. Mothers in Bulgaria are entitled to 410 days of paid maternity leave according to statistics from the OECD. It gets better. The pay is approximately 90% of a mother’s gross salary, and there is an option for mothers to take another year off with their pay matching the minimum wage. The maternity leave is also transferable to the father or guardians such as grandparents who are still part of the working population.
Greece is also ahead of the UK in regards to maternity leave with 43 weeks of paid leave equivalent to over 50% of mother’s average earnings. Although the minimum wage in Greece has fallen due to austerity measures imposed in the past, mothers in Greece are still better off.
Mothers in Germany enjoy 14 weeks of fully-paid leave. The same applies to mothers in Austria, France, and Spain. According to OECD statistics, Ireland offers 42 weeks maternity leave, 26 of which are paid (flat rate of 230 Euros per week).
The United States doesn’t warrant paid maternity leave. However, companies which employ more than 50 people must provide three months of unpaid job-protected leave. Some states like New Jersey, California Rhode Island guarantee paid maternity leave. Most medium-sized and large companies in the U.S. also offer paid leave which usually matches the wages of the mother and lasts for three months.
What should be done?
According to the TUC, the UK government needs to increase the statutory maternity pay as well as maternity allowance to match the minimum wage so that UK mothers can enjoy decent paternal benefits. Such a move would also ensure UK mothers go back to work when they are healthy and ready. The TUC has also urged the UK government to boost the shared parental pay as well as paternity pay.
The national trade union believes money shouldn’t be the main factor for UK mothers looking to decide who should look after their newborn. With the current maternity pay way below the minimum wage, UK mothers have no choice but to choose work over their newborns or take up short-term loans to survive maternity.
A recent research study done by comparethemarket.com indicates that UK mothers spend at least £184 per week on their newborns. The research study surveyed 1500 new as well as expectant mothers/parents. According to Jody Coughlan, the Head of life insurance at comparethemarket.com (a price comparison website), the UK government’s statutory maternity pay of £139.58 weekly leaves parents with a deficit of £44.44 a week which translates to £2,310 a year. According to Mr. Coughlan, this figure doesn’t even consider other bills faced by households such as energy bills and monthly mortgage repayments.