The UK ranks last in Europe for providing working parents with well-paid leave following the birth of a child, according to research by Trades Union Congress (TUC).
The research, which was published to coincide with the Children and Families Bill beginning its committee stage in the House of Lords on 19 November, found that new mothers in the UK receive just six weeks of statutory maternity pay at 90% of their salary, while the European average for maternity leave is 43 weeks.
Working mothers in Britain are also entitled to an additional 33 weeks pay, but only at £136 per week, a rate that has fallen in real terms under the current government.
Only one in four women in the UK receive extra occupational maternity pay from their employers.
The research also found that there is not much support available for new fathers in the UK. Fathers only receive two weeks of paternity leave, plus the right to take additional paternity pay of up to 19 weeks, but all at only £136 per week.
As part of the Children and Families Bill, the government plans to introduce a system of shared parental leave from 2015, but it will still be low paid, at just £136 per week.
The top European countries for well-paid parental leave by months are Norway (35.4), Lithuania (24.9), Hungary (24.2), the Czech Republic (24), Estonia (18.6), Sweden (13.4), Poland (12.5), Germany (12), Slovenia (11.7), Denmark (11.2), Finland (11.1) and Iceland (nine).
Frances O’Grady, general secretary at TUC, said: “Unfortunately, when it comes to supporting parents looking after a new baby, the UK is the Scrooge of Europe.
“Countries across Europe are incredibly diverse, especially in the challenges they face, yet all of them have found ways to offer better support for new parents.
“A modest way to start turning this around would be for the government to give new fathers six weeks of well-paid leave.
“Without a properly-paid system of shared parental leave, women will continue to be forced to put their careers on hold as they continue to be the primary carers in their child’s all-important first year.”
Sarah Jackson, chief executive of Working Families, added: “We know from callers to our helpline and from research that families are losing out. Many fathers can’t afford to take paternity leave because it is paid well below the national minimum wage.
“We’re supporting the introduction of a ‘father quota’ based on the international evidence of what works: independent leave for fathers, paid at adequate wage replacement levels.
“We want to encourage more fathers to share the care, but it sends a poor message about valuing family time if we offer less than the minimum wage to care for new born children.”
Adrienne Burgess, chief executive of the Fatherhood Institute, said: “In Iceland, reserving three months’ leave for fathers in the first year and paying this at a reasonable rate, has transformed the nature of parenting.
“Icelandic fathers now take more than a third of all the leave available to parents and Iceland now ranks first in the world for equality between men and women, according to the World Economic Forum.”