The UK and Ireland are on the brink of a baby boom, but a new league table comparing statutory maternity pay during the cost of living crisis shows they are falling short compared to most of their European neighbours.
The rankings have been produced after analysing how individual countries compensated women as they become new mothers. Employers and governments in Europe are responsible for covering statutory pay for new mothers to varying degrees.
Each country was assessed based on the length of full maternity pay it offers to employees (no all countries offer full pay so the time has been adjusted to reflect that). The league table reveals that the UK and Ireland are among the lowest payers in the continent.
The analysis found that Bulgaria boasts Europe’s best maternity package. It allows new mothers to take a minimum of 58.6 weeks off (410 days), with its National Health Insurance Fund paying 90% of their full salary during leave (with a social security cap of €1,700). Similarly, Norway pays mothers 80-100% of their full salary for at least 49 weeks. Its Scandinavian neighbours are also not far behind, with Sweden paying 80% of an employee’s full salary for 34 weeks and Finland paying 90% for 29 weeks.
By comparison, the UK offers new mothers up to 52 weeks of maternity leave however they are entitled to just 90% of their average weekly pay for the first six weeks. In Ireland, new mothers get 42 weeks of maternity leave with €245 paid weekly for the first 26 weeks.
Dee Coakley, CEO and co-founder of Boundless, says: “In the face of an incredibly challenging period for citizens over the past two years, it’s been heartening to see people looking to start or grow a family. Official data tells us we can expect a baby boom brewing in 2022, after the UK experienced an increase in births and conceptions in the second year of the pandemic. The same is said for Ireland, with separate figures showing an increase in the number of births which some experts putting the boom down to Covid-19.
“However, as the cost of living crisis rumbles on, new parents are understandably concerned by the sub-standard maternity statutory pay in these two countries. Food, energy and fuel costs are spiralling, with some families left with no choice but to go without heating. It’s led to numerous calls from Maternity Action for the UK government to increase the current basic rate which, for many women, is not enough for anyone to live on, let alone raise a baby.”
The UK and Ireland also fall short when it comes to paternity and parental leave with fathers getting up to two weeks’ leave, paid at £156.66 and €245 per week respectively. And, despite the UK offering up to 18 weeks’ parental leave, all of it is unpaid. Ireland is slightly better, with the government offering five weeks’ parental leave with €245 paid each week.
By comparison, Romania offers a very long parental leave to its employees, with both parents entitled to 108.7 weeks of parental leave with 80% of their full salary paid.
Dee adds: “Our league table clearly shows the disparities in maternity leave across Europe and the need for the UK and Ireland to level up by increasing their basic rates. But there’s work that can be done at an employer level too – and that’s giving extended leave and pay. We are seeing some employers in the UK and Ireland already taking this step. In the UK, for example, some offer full pay for 16-35 weeks irrespective of gender, they cover breastfeeding support and they provide three months’ paid paternity leave. Other companies should try to adjust to allow long leaves. What’s more, employers can be offering flexible benefits to help parents adapt to their new lives. These include things like childcare vouchers, a cleaning service, a meal subscription and parental coaching.
“In doing so, companies can go above and beyond respecting a nation’s statutory benefits – empowering employees to pick the types of benefits that make sense for them and their own personal circumstances. After all, what a new parent wants out of employee benefits will probably be entirely different from a colleague who has just moved into a new house, for example, and wants a Netflix subscription and restaurant vouchers.”
*Research from Boundless