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According to the Trade Union Congress (TUC) Britain is amongst the worst in Europe for providing ‘decently paid’ maternity leave.

In the report, Britain comes in at 3rd from bottom for their paid parental leave, with only Slovakia and Ireland providing a worse offering. That leaves 21 other countries in which women are being offered a better maternity pay structure.

The TUC says pay should be at a level ‘decent’ and state this to be two thirds of normal income throughout the duration of their maternity leave period, or at a rate that amounts to more than £840 a month.

Currently in the UK, women are entitled to take 52 weeks’ maternity leave, which is more than the EU’s minimum requirement of 14 weeks.  39 weeks of this leave will be paid, the first 6 weeks’ at 90% of the individual’s normal weekly pay and the rest at just short of £140 per week.  Women may also be entitled to maternity allowance, if they do not qualify for maternity pay.

In contrast, countries such as Spain, France, Italy and Demark are entitled to a minimum of 3 months’ maternity pay, with this being 6 months in Croatia (often up to 100% of their salary).

This low rate of pay puts a significant strain on thousands of mothers across the country – it forces those who aren’t able to adequately cover outgoings back into work earlier than they would like, after which they are faced with the ever-rising costs of child care.

Whilst some women do receive better maternity pay packages from their place of employment (contractual maternity pay) the women who only receive the statutory amount make up the vast majority.

Raising a new-born is expensive, in fact, according to research it costs mother’s an average of £184 a week, which on the current maternity pay structure leave mothers with a potential shortfall of over £2,300 for the year, and this isn’t even taking into account other bills and living costs.

As a result of this report, the TUC are calling for statutory maternity pay and maternity allowance to be raised to at least the minimum wage in order to ease the financial burden on families and prevent mothers from rushing back into work.

The TUC have highlighted beyond doubt that the UK are falling behind when it comes to statutory maternity pay and the current rate is simply not enough.

The Government are quite simply not doing enough and seem keen on placing emphasis on employers to pick up the tab, for example, in this case, through increased maternity pay schemes, rather than the Government stepping up.

The vast majority of employees do not have this benefit and employers are not in a position to offer the same.  This needs addressing as it is clear that financial worries force women back to work, when in reality they would like more time with their baby.

There is however a much wider issue to address here and whilst the level of maternity pay is important and needs to be increased, the Government should also spend time considering paternity leave and pay, so there is a greater incentive for men to stay at home and share the childcare responsibility.

For more from our employment law team, click here

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