As a new mother receiving Maternity Allowance due to being made redundant last year, I felt compelled to investigate maternity leave and maternity pay. To my shock, Eastern Europe have better maternity leave and pay than the rest of the entire world, with the USA being the worst off with no paid maternity leave at all.
In the UK, although new mums can take up to 52 weeks off of work on maternity leave they are only guaranteed statutory maternity pay as follows; 6 weeks at 90% pay followed by 33 weeks at £139.58 a week, then the remaining 13 weeks can be taken without pay. There are of course the lucky few that have employers that offer a great package, including those who work for the government or civil services either directly or indirectly. However, in countries that are ‘supposedly’ not as economically sound as the UK, they offer better maternity packages to their working mothers than we do – e.g. Bulgaria offers 4 weeks before birth and 26 weeks after birth at full pay, paid by the public health. In the UK, the average salary is £26,500, after tax and national insurance this works out at about £403 per week. This means that based on the average salary, women are being paid less than 35% of their worth whilst on maternity leave. I am not suggesting anything as radical as full pay for a year, but there does need to be a change in the maternity policy; women are not taking a sabbatical, they are nurturing the next generation. Some women return to work before they are ready for financial reasons, others feel that they have to return full time when they do go back to make up for lost money and time and others struggle to agree a flexible working pattern once they do return to work. It is no wonder that women are dropping out of the labour market when they feel so unsupported.
As far as I am concerned, we need not look at women only shortlists for board members and MP positions, what should be happening is a shift in national policy. If women are treated the way that they deserve when they are bringing the board members and parliamentary members of tomorrow into the world, then there would no longer be a need for positive discrimination as there would be enough women applying for positions and being promoted organically instead of forged. It is also worth noting that fathers are able to share parental leave with their partners (as of April 2015), although there has been very little uptake. Research suggests that fathers are concerned about career progression and the fact that they would have to agree to the meagre Statutory Pay. I have no sympathy for either of these comments as it also applies to women, we too have to agree to Statutory Pay and the chance that we may potentially not receive a promotion in the near future.
I understand that it must be difficult for a small company to pay an employee on maternity leave as well as paying someone to cover the role temporarily, however, there is absolutely no excuse for multinational companies posting million pound annual profits. This is the crucial benefit that will get talented women into so called male dominated positions. Fair pay whilst on maternity leave and subsidised nurseries will have women queuing to work at such a company. Back to the small companies that do not have the money to pay for a position twice (once for the woman on maternity leave and once for her cover), the government should be subsidising this further. If the government are willing to pay their own staff a fair pay during maternity leave, then they should be supporting other companies to do the same. Medical staff working for the NHS receive the following; 8 weeks full pay, 18 weeks half pay and 13 weeks statuary maternity pay. Using the average UK salary as a consistent comparative, I have put the below table together to identify who and where people are achieving a decent pay during maternity leave.
If the government are happy to pay NHS staff the above, then statuary maternity pay should reflect the same across all working women. Of course, all of the same eligibility criteria should stay the same, otherwise a pregnant woman could work for just 2 months and get the same as a woman who has worked for a company for over a year. Other ideas of mine include an optional phased return, making it easier for women to make the transition from stay at home mum to working mum. Maybe employers could offer a one day a week programme at 9months into maternity leave, increasing to 3 days by 12months into maternity leave. It would then be between the mother and the employer to discuss hours and flexibility from 12months onwards. Larger companies should also be offering onsite nurseries. There are now companies that offer a restaurant, gym and even a dentist and hairdresser onsite, so why not childcare?