Navigating the world of parental leave can be overwhelming. As a new parent, you may be confused about the different schemes on offer within the United Kingdom. Whether you’re researching maternity, paternity, or shared parental leave, each is dependent on a number of individual factors. You may also find that parental leave can be biased against fathers. To overcome these issues, the UK could take inspiration from other countries within Europe, such as Sweden.
Here is a comparative discussion between maternity and paternity rights within the UK and Sweden. As Sweden offer longer periods of paid leave for fathers, it would be normal to see men pushing a double buggy, filling the role of primary care-giver or stay-at-home dad. Although we are on our way to having equal maternity and paternity leave, the United Kingdom could learn a thing or two from its Scandinavian counterpart.
The United Kingdom offers a range of maternity and paternity schemes. Parents can claim both paid and unpaid leave from their employer or the government. This is dependent upon their individual circumstances, from employment status to gender. It is worth noting that an employer can provide additional leave for parents, but this may need to be paid back if they do not return to work.
Here is a brief outline of maternity, paternity, and shared parental leave in the UK.
Statutory maternity leave allows mothers to take 52 weeks off work. There are two types of maternity pay you could claim: statutory maternity pay and maternity allowance.
Statutory maternity pay is paid by employers and lasts for up to 39 weeks or 273 days. In the first six weeks, mothers are paid 90% of their average wage. A lower rate is paid for the last 13 weeks, either £151.97 per week or 90% of their average wage - whichever is less.
In comparison, maternity allowance is paid for by the government and is part of Jobcentre Plus. This is given to mothers who have stopped working, changed jobs, or have a low income and do not qualify for statutory maternity pay. The scheme offers mothers £151.97 a week or 90% of their average weekly wage for 39 weeks – whichever is lowest.
There are benefits to both schemes. Statutory maternity pay offers mothers more money within the first six weeks. In comparison, maternity allowance provides less money but enables self-employed mothers to claim between £27 and £151.97 a week.
Paternity leave is much more restrictive within the United Kingdom. Statutory paternity pay offers fathers 1 to 2 weeks of paid leave. This must be taken in one block and stays the same if they have more than one child. Similar to statutory maternity pay, this is paid for by the employer and equals £151.97 or 90% of average earnings per week – whichever is less.
In addition to this, self-employed fathers cannot claim statutory paternity pay. Although self-employed women can claim maternity allowance through the government, there is no scheme like this for men to rely on. This, along with the short fortnight of leave available, has resulted in fewer men taking paid leave than women. In fact, between 2020 and 2021, only 176,000 men took parental leave, compared to 652,000 women.
Shared parental leave
To tackle the gap between maternity and paternity leave, the UK government introduced the shared parental leave scheme. The scheme lasts for 50 weeks, allowing 37 weeks of shared parental pay and 13 weeks of unpaid leave. This is only possible after the mother has taken two weeks of maternity leave.
Shared parental leave allows parents to share care-giving responsibilities during the first year of a child’s birth or adoption. This can be taken in three periods of leave, rather than one block, giving families more flexibility in how they work and care for their child.
However, this scheme offers less money to parents. Maternity pay is 90% of their average earnings for the first six weeks, then the lowest option out of 90% or £151.97 for the remainder. In comparison, shared parental leave starts at £151.97 or 90% per week, offering parents the lowest option from the outset. Considering this, the shared parental leave scheme may be less attractive for families within the UK. Despite offering more leave for fathers, some families may not be able to afford to choose this option.
Countries are continuing to improve their ethics and implement new policies for parental leave. So, the UK may introduce a new parental scheme that equally benefits men and women without compromising on pay. To consider how this might look, let’s explore parental leave in Sweden.
A country in the Scandinavian Peninsula, Sweden is a shining example of gender equality within Europe. In 1974, Sweden was the first country in the world to modernise parental leave, creating a system that equally benefitted both parents after the birth or adoption of their children. Here are some of the ways that Sweden offers a more balanced option for both parents.
As long as they are legal residents within Sweden, families are entitled to 480 days parental leave or 68.5 weeks. This is a flexible arrangement that benefits both care-givers. Parents are able to split paid leave equally – taking 240 days each – or transfer extra days to their partners to suit their needs. Within the first year of leave, both parents are able to spend 30 days at home together.
Even more impressive, a single parent is entitled to the whole 480 days of paid leave – both mothers and fathers! When compared to paternity leave within the UK, this is much more beneficial to fathers.
Parental leave is paid by the Swedish Social Insurance Administration. The level of pay depends upon their salary, working arrangements, and whether they have lived and worked in Sweden previously. In comparison to the UK, this scheme does not offer the lowest amount to parents.
There are two ways to calculate the average pay. The minimum amount of paid parental leave is 250 SEK or £20.45 per day. This is available to residents who have not worked or earned money within the country. However, if parents have legally worked within Sweden, they are eligible to receive 80% of their salary for the 420 days. This amount is limited to 1006 SEK or £82.31 per day.
As well as this, if a parent feels like they would benefit from more time at home, they can reduce their working hours by 25% after their leave. Although they will not be paid, this is another example of how the UK can take inspiration from Sweden.
Overall, there is a big difference between maternity and paternity leave within the United Kingdom. Although the government offers the shared parental scheme, there is a long way to go before working men and women have the same opportunities to spend time with their newborns or adopted babies. In the northern tip of Europe, the Swedish model for parental leave is generous for both parents – regardless of gender! As Sweden sets a respectable example of parental leave and gender equality, we can only hope the UK follows in its footsteps.