The UK has been ranked as one of the least family-friendly among the world’s richest countries; a new study by the UN’s children’s charity has shown.
Researchers for UNICEF have recently produced a report which ranks 41 countries across the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) and the European Union (EU) based on an assessment of policies on child care and parental leave.
The report placed the UK in the bottom 10 of the worst countries, at 34th in the table, for maternity leave. This brings us behind other EU countries such as France, Germany and Sweden.
There are some countries, however, which provide a very generous maternity leave policy.
- Estonia (85 weeks)
- Hungary (72 weeks)
- Bulgaria (61 weeks)
However there are selection of countries who offer a very low maternity package including New Zealand and Australia that who offer just 8 weeks of maternity leave at full pay, and the US that offers no paid time off at all.
In relation to paternity leave, the UK is ranked 28th in the list, compared to Japan ranked highly due to their offer of at least 6 months at full pay for fathers.
The individuals who conducted the research for the report say that not only does paid paternity leave help fathers bond with their babies and promote gender equality, but it also lowers maternal depression and contributes to healthy infant and child development. This has lead to the OECD urging countries to create national policies ensuring paid paternity leave and also encourage fathers to use it.
Henrietta Fore, UNICEF’s Executive Director, commented that “There is no time more critical to children’s brain development, and therefore their futures, than the earliest years of life”. She also urged governments to “help provide parents with the support they need to create a nurturing environment for their young children”.
Liam Sollis, UNICEF UK’s Head of Policy also commented that “UK working parents and care-givers still face major challenges balancing work and their care-giving responsibilities”. He also gave reassurance that “the UK government is taking steps to review and raise awareness of family-friendly policies” however much more needs to be done “to tackle the financial, cultural and administrative obstacles that many families face”.
The entitlement of an employee to maternity leave pay and other benefits is governed by a number of pieces of legislation. In the UK, statutory maternity pay is payable at two different rates:
• the first six weeks at 90% of normal weekly earnings; and
• remaining 33 weeks at a lower rate
On the other hand, new fathers may be eligible for 1 or 2 week’s paid paternity leave at £149 a week, or Shared Parental Leave (SPL). This allows couples to split the maternity leave entitlement between them, allowing the statutory maternity pay regardless whether it is the mother or father taking the leave.
The Trades Unions Congress found that only 1% of new parents in the UK used SPL last year out of more than 900,000 who were eligible, in their research. They found that there is a low level of take up of the SPL because most fathers cannot afford to live off such a reduced payment.
This proves that many fathers are hesitant to take paternity leave or shared parental leave despite their eligibility and the positive impacts that it can have on the development of their child. We believe that it is important to make soon-to-be parents in the workplace aware of their entitlements regarding maternity and paternity pay and the possibility of taking SPL. They should be encouraged to thoroughly consider the leave and make them aware of the benefits it can have on them and their child. The Government may get around to rolling out some publicity to try and encourage more SPL.