UK leads on statutory parental leave rights

03 May 2019 4 min. read

Employers in the UK are keen to leverage parental leave offerings as a way to attract top talent in a shrinking labour market. New research has found that British parents have the joint best statutory leave, with mothers entitled to as much as a year, and fathers given 14 weeks, while a growing number of firms offer the chance to split this paid leave 50:50 between parents.

In April 2019, British multinational alcoholic beverages company, Diageo made waves when it announced its new parental leave policy. Henceforth, new mothers and fathers employed by Diageo in the UK are eligible for the same fully-paid 26 weeks, retaining benefits and bonuses regardless of gender, sexual orientation or whether they become parents biologically, via surrogacy or adoption. The move constitutes one of the most generous parental leave packages in the country – as the company looks to attract top talent in a tightening labour market.

As Diageo joined The Telegraph and Aviva in offering new parents equal pay, it is easy to see why a company would take such steps to try and tempt prospective employees to their firm. Paid parental leave can have enormous benefits for parents and children alike, to the extent a report conducted in 2011 found that an increase of 10 weeks of paid maternal leave was associated with a 10% lower neonatal and infant mortality rate, while women who took more than 12 weeks maternity leave suffered fewer depressive symptoms.

Maternity Leave Across The World

In line with this, a report by finance comparison service Money Guru has found that the UK generally offers the best statutory paternity and maternity leave levels in the world. New fathers are entitled to 14 weeks of paid leave – level with Germany, Finland, Denmark and France, while new mothers in Britain – along with those in Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Austria and Poland – can obtain up to 52 weeks of paid leave. Meanwhile, the number of fathers taking advantage of their paternity leave rights has seen an increase, likely somewhat accountable to the increasingly popular option to split parental leave between partners 50:50.

Lagging behind

Despite the overwhelming body of evidence supporting such policies, however, not all developed countries are following suit. As the US continues to enable corporations to strip back the rights of workers to deliver extra profitability, the country is the only developed nation in the world where there is no statutory requirement for paid leave for new parents. At the same time, the US does not entrench the job security of new parents during any time off they take – pushing the nation’s most vulnerable employees back to work faster, and likely having a negative impact on their children in the process.

Paternity Leave Across The World

So dire is the state of play in the US that Afghanistan – the 21st poorest country in the world, and one torn apart by years of American military intervention – offers better conditions for mothers. In Afghanistan, maternity leave entitlement stands at up to 14 weeks, while Yemen – another poor country in the Middle East, and one currently devastated by a bombing campaign by Saudi Arabia – similarly has up to 14 weeks available for new mums.

Back in the UK, mothers might be well supported in the early period of their parenthood, but when they seek to return to the workforce they are often woefully neglected. Britain’s working mothers are presently losing out on £1.3 trillion in earnings as a result of inflexible business culture according to a recent survey. More than half the mothers in the UK also revealed that they had left or changed jobs due to family commitments – with the majority of these jobs no longer putting their educational background to use, suggesting a huge waste of talent on top of the loss of income.