Why is UK Maternity Pay (SMP) one of the worst in Europe? It’s a question that has been asked by many families for years now.
The bigger question is, are we any closer to seeing the changes we’re looking for? Well, who knows?!
But before I get into it, let’s take a look at the UK’s history on maternity leave and what we are actually entitled to in this country.
A brief history of Maternity Leave and Pay
Up until around the 1970s women were usually sacked by their employers for becoming pregnant. It wasn’t until 1975 that we introduced the first maternity leave legislation. However, for around 15 years, roughly only 50% of working pregnant women were actually eligible for statutory maternity leave. This was due to the many qualifying factors, such as employment length.
In order to bring Britain in line with the European Commission directive, statutory maternity leave was finally offered to all working women from around 1993.
Though it’s not unreasonable to assume that some employers would still have discriminated against pregnant women and found ‘legitimate reasons’ to let them go.
A paid paternity leave was introduced for male employees in 2003. A little later in 2010, a further change was made which allowed couples to split their SMP between each other. This additional regulation entitles fathers to take up to 26 weeks of paternity leave in the first year of the child’s life to allow mothers to return to work. At the same time, an extension was made to male statutory paternity leave to allow 2 weeks of paid paternity leave at the existing SMP rates.
So what is your current statutory maternity leave entitlement?
SMP in the UK currently entitles you to 52 weeks of leave, but not all of this is paid leave. Here is how it’s broken down:
- First 6 weeks at 90% pay for women & 2 weeks for men at the same rate.
- 33 weeks of either 90% of your average weekly pay or £151.20 a week, whichever is lower.
- The remaining 13 weeks as unpaid leave.
- There is also the option of splitting your leave between yourself & your partner which allows one partner to return to work and the remaining partner to continue paternity leave for up to 26 weeks.
Take a look at gov.uk/maternity-pay-leave/pay for full details on what you may be entitled to.
How does this compare to other countries?
Many people believe the UK has one of the best maternity systems in the world. While that may be true, on paper, don’t be fooled.
The government would like us to believe this is the case. But when you look at how these findings are measured you will see why it’s simply not true. The government base these results on stacking the UK against the rest of the world. This includes countries with much lower economies than our own. Countries considered extremely poor in comparison.
So when looking at it this way, of course, on average we would come out smelling of roses.
But why would you compare the UK with countries with a much lower economy?
It’s like comparing the exam paper results of junior school children with that of secondary school children, for the exact same exam paper! You just wouldn’t do it. You would understand they are on completely different playing fields, educationally, and therefore require very different exam papers.
It’s the same for countries and economies. However, when you stack the UK against countries with similar economic status, the picture looks much different. Here are just a few examples of what other countries are doing when it comes to maternity leave –
Finland’s new government has new SMP plans for 2021, which entitles parents to the following –
- 14 months combined paid leave between both parents
- Allowance calculated on annual income with a basic rate for anyone who has not earned an income
- Single parents can also claim the amount of two parents
- A whopping 15 months leave at 80% of their normal pay
- 18 weeks reserved just for mothers, after which parents can split up their time however they choose
- Fathers receive 12 weeks of the 15 months just for them
- Mothers can take 48 weeks at full pay or 59 weeks at 80% pay.
- Fathers are also entitled to between 0 – 10 weeks depending on their partner income
- Mothers can take up to 15 weeks of maternity leave paid at 82% for the first 30 days and 75% for the remaining time.
- Self-employed full-time mothers can take 12 weeks of leave at a flat rate of €475.41 per week
Although maternity leave length varies from one country to another, it’s clear the overall pay is much lower for the UK compared with many other similar economic countries. Many of which are considerably less wealthy than the UK.
In a world where racism is finally being called out and no longer tolerated, the LGBTQ community is being more widely accepted and respected, and the fight for equal opportunities for women has never been so strong, I’m surprised I haven’t seen more in the news & social media on how we manage maternity rights in this country.
It baffles me how we have managed to progress as much as we have in recent years on other important topics, yet don’t seem to have advanced much at all when it comes to maternity rights.
To see how this affects real families in real life, all you have to do is a quick google search. Low-income families struggle to get by with the current SMP. Mothers have to cut short maternity leave to return to work as they just can’t afford not to.
Isn’t it about time we moved forward with this? Aren’t we a country that prides itself on equal opportunities and progressive social policies?
If so, then isn’t it time we caught up with other countries who are seemingly doing it much better than we are?
If you too feel that change needs to be made to Statutory Maternity Pay in the UK then let’s spread the word. The government won’t make a change off their own backs. We, the people, need to shout loud enough about it first.
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