Maternity leave- will this help?

// 6 April 2009

The BBC recently reported on proposed changes to maternity leave, designed, apparently to make it more equal. These changes, would see paid maternity leave cut from nine months, to six months, with Fathers allowed to take 4 months before the child reaches the age of 5, as paternity leave.

On paper this may seem like a great idea, and would certainly be a step towards moving British maternity leave arrangements in line with some of the more equal arrangements which can be found in Europe. However, cutting Maternity leave from 6 months to 9 months, when only 6 weeks of that leave is currently paid at 90% of the mothers earnings, and the rest is paid at a statutory rate of £117 is a terrible idea, which will impact very negatively on Mothers in low inome families in particular. That’s before you get to the hideous hetronormative slant to these changes- what leave for example does the non child bearing mother of a child born to two women get? And what leave do gay men get when they have a child? Once again the government has conveniently ignored any families that do not fit a ‘traditional’, hetrosexual mould. What happens if the Mother is the main breadwinner or doesn’t WANT to stay at home for 6 months? Can her partner take the leave she could have taken?

I really think that more equal leave for parents following the birth of a child is an absolute neccessity. Having a baby is a massive strain both physically and emotionally and having a second parent at home not only allows a new or expanded family time to recover, it also allows them time to bond and form a cohesive family unit. What I would like to see is paid, flexible leave that can be taken by any parent of a child at any point in the first year following the birth/adoption of a child. This would allow for both parents to be off in any combination they can think of. This would mean that rather than a one size fits all apporach, families are able to work out something that fits them best and allows for both parents to properly enjoy time off with their new child and each other, without being under pressure to return to work.

Comments From You

Aimee // Posted 6 April 2009 at 12:09 pm

I read the so called statement from number ten regarding this, and all I could think was “so we’ve essentially been ignored again”… these changes are NOT ENOUGH. They are not what we demanded and they will, in my opinion, do little to make any difference. According to the statement, men “may” get paid leave IF the woman goes back to work… Gahhd… when will these people listen? It makes me so angry that the government feel they have the right to dictate the manner in which our children are brought up by severely limiting all the options availiable to us. It just seems so unfair to me.

Jess // Posted 6 April 2009 at 12:16 pm

I always wondered about mothers in single-parent families… should it just be completely flexible, with a certain amount of total leave which a child’s parents/guardians can split between them in whatever what makes most sense in that particular family?

Chris Morris // Posted 6 April 2009 at 12:18 pm

“what leave for example does the non child bearing mother of a child born to two women get?”

One partner (any gender, need not be biologically related to the child) of the mother can take paternity leave. Multiple partners can’t split it between them, but it’s currently so small anyway that’s not a big problem. If they extend it to a few months that would need fixing.

It’s definitely in the running for “most misleadingly named leave” but the actual setup is surprisingly flexible (of course, all the reporting on it, and the EHRC quotes, assumes that it will be the biological father)

“And what leave do gay men get when they have a child?”

The arrangements are less good here, though they do exist. Assuming neither is giving birth and depending on the arrangements, either:

one of them can take adoption leave (same length as maternity leave, but less pay for the first 6 weeks) and the other can take paternity leave; or: they can take parental leave. is a summary of what’s currently available and who could take it.

Kirsty // Posted 6 April 2009 at 12:22 pm

I couldn’t agree more. When the reports were coming out last week, I found myself thinking that (a) it’s great that paternity leave could be longer than the 2 weeks available at the moment, as I know how tough a friend of mine found it to leave his wife and new daughter at home to go back to the office after only 14 days. Especially as she had a tough birth and was even more physically drained, and really could have done with the support of having him at home.

But, (b) why does extending paternity leave automatically mean cutting maternity leave? To be able to decide who takes what leave between the two parents would seem to me to be a common sense approach. Each family works differently and should have the freedom to do what works for them.

And of course, the same should be the case for gay, lesbian, and “non-traditional” families.

eleanargh // Posted 6 April 2009 at 12:39 pm

The full outline of the changes proposed by the EHRC is here . The proposals include increasing the 90% maternity pay period from 6 weeks to 26 weeks. I *think* the first two weeks paternity leave were previously unpaid (could be wrong, it’s so confusing) but will now be paid at 90%. At least eight weeks of the four months available to either parent would be paid at 90%, rather than the statutory pay currently paid to the mother for the remaining four months. I am now entirely confused by the maths and obviously the advantages will vary across different incomes, but it seems to me that there are improvements for low income families.

Any partner of a child’s biological mother is entitled to the paternity leave – e.g. in a woman-woman couple. I’m unsure how it works for a new male-male couple where one is a biological father if they are caring for the baby rather than the biological mother (there are different rules that cover adoption leave) though.

I’d still lovvve for us to just have the Norwegian model though: 54 weeks (80% pay) are available with the mother having to take 9, the father 6, and the rest divided as they wish. And then they get a whole extra year unpaid if they want it…

Anji // Posted 6 April 2009 at 12:58 pm

Ack. Increase paternity leave by all means, but not to the detriment of maternity! I know in some European countries they get 12 months’ paid maternity leave – that seems far more reasonable to me, and this job of being mama would be much easier to deal with if we weren’t constantly worrying about money. Once again the government is shortsightedly doing something in the name of ‘equality’ which in reality benefits nobody.

Cath Elliott // Posted 6 April 2009 at 1:04 pm

The proposals come from the Equality and Human Rights Commission and are outlined in their report: Working Better

If you read through it you’ll see that the proposals for increased paternity leave also apply to same-sex partners, as both paternity pay and leave do now under the current system.

Same sex couples have had the same maternity/paternity/adoption leave rights as heterosexual couples since the Employment Equality (sexual orientation) Regulations were passed in 2003:

Amity // Posted 6 April 2009 at 1:15 pm

The proposal would actually give women more pay *and* more time off. The Commission is proposing to reduce statutory maternity leave to six months but at 90% pay for the duration instead of only the first six weeks. So many women aren’t able to take much time off (3 months, max) because the stat rate is too little for them to live on. This is bad not only for bonding between mother and baby but breastfeeding rates as well.

After the six month period, both parents would be entitled to ‘parental leave’ of four months each, with at least 8 weeks of that on the 90% rate and the rest at the statutory rate. A further four months of ‘family leave’ paid at the statutory rate would be shared between them and could be used up until the child was 5. The non-birth partner would not be able to transfer his/her portion of leave to the birth mother, hopefully persuading more men (or non-birth partners) to bond with their children in the early months and take more responsibility for childcare. Whether their employers encourage or discourage this practice remains to be seen but at least the right would be there. I think it’s a fantastic idea.

Samantha // Posted 6 April 2009 at 1:16 pm

yup, I agree, I got an e-mail since I signed the online petition (perhaps the most self-gratifying waste of time ever)…

I don’t understand how it’s not OBVIOUS to the Gov’t that the ONLY WAY to promote equity in pay between the genders is to give both the man and woman (or man and man, woman and woman etc etc) a legal right to full paid mat/paternity leave.

– the answer, of course, is that it is obvious – but in a patriarchal society ‘gender equity’ isn’t a big enough issue.

infact a ‘right’ isn’t enough, employers routinely weasel/guilt their employees out of their ‘rights’. It should be illegal for an employer to have an employee working who has recently had a child.

This is so frustrating for me, personally, I’m just starting out on a career in teaching, and stupid maternity leave rules are forcing me to push starting a family so far down my list of priorities I just don’t know when it’s going to happen!

when did we become nothing more than working machines?

I need someone to show me the clause in this social contract where we gave up the right to stay home when it shows so much we can’t drive? when did we sign away our right to have a child? when did we agree that crippling menstrual cramps aren’t a good reason for taking a half day off work (and in my place of work ATM, having a child ill with leukaemia isn’t a good enough reason to have time off!

ok… stepping off soapbox….

Legible Susan // Posted 6 April 2009 at 2:51 pm

Reading this post, I thought “What? That’s not what the govt. said in their reply to the Flexible Leave petition”. And also “What about single mothers?” Looking at the BBC story, it’s the EHRC that are talking about the cut to six months, and I think they mean mother-only leave to be cut and the other 6 months to be transferable. It’s hard to tell, because the BBC story doesn’t make its antecedents clear and the quotes are short.

The e-petition response says “It is a goal to introduce Additional Paternity Leave and Pay (APL&P) alongside the extension of maternity pay to 12 months”; no indication of cutting maternity pay at all.

Kathryn // Posted 6 April 2009 at 3:26 pm

As a quick reference, I looked through the parental leave pages on wikipedia:

to see the difference across the world.

I also recall an article from the Guardian last year about Iceland:

Of course, the financial type parts of this article are no longer relevant, and it remains to be seen what impact the “economic downturn” will have on paid parental leave, but it seems that a country with equal parental leave/rights is a much happier place for women to live and work.

Of course they have not addressed families that do not conform to the hetero ‘norm’. We have to walk before we can run. First the anti-homophobia law, perhaps strengthened recognition of civil partnership, then there would be a solid foundation for non hetero families to receive the same rights. I am not saying this is fair or right, but things have to be done one step at a time.

And if there are equal gender rights in this field one hopes it would follow that same-sex marriages are recognised in terms of parental rights, as we become a more equal society in general.

Kate // Posted 6 April 2009 at 4:36 pm

It’s actually a hideous heteronormative slant to the reporting – if the new “paternity” leave is like the current “paternity” leave, it can be taken either by the baby’s biological father, if he’s going to be involved in the baby’s upbringing, or by the mother’s partner. In my children’s case, since they have both involved fathers and a non-biological mother, that meant two people were entitled to that leave!

CMK // Posted 6 April 2009 at 7:14 pm

Paternity leave is for the partner of the mother in the broadest sense, so that includes by marriage, civil partnership etc etc.

Both parents can (usually) take up to 13 weeks unpaid parental leave each during the first five years of the childs life.

The current provision of paid leave at a sensible amount is abysmal, however the level of involvement of fathers in the formative months of a child is far worse.

I am fully in favour of enhancing paid maternity leave at proper amounts but the bigger issue at this point IMO is that father are not involved nearly enough and it needs to be addressed. Giving both parents an equal allowance would be a great start and reduce some of the other inequalities/discrimination that men and women face in the workplace.

Better to level both down just now and then gradually raise them over time as we can better afford it.

james // Posted 6 April 2009 at 8:54 pm

I think giving leave at 90% of wages for 6 months is absolutely evil. The government shouldn’t be giving people money in proportion to how rich they are. They shouldn’t be giving people in employment more money than those who are unemployed (it should be the other way around). And they shouldn’t be promoting the casualisation of the labour market by artificially creating more demand for temporary work.

Does anyone really think it is a good idea to pay productive and qualified women who are doctors and social workers and so huge amounts of money to disengage from the labour market for 6 months? No-one’s going to choose to work. There are far more socially useful things to spend £5 billion on. This is just crazy.

Amity // Posted 6 April 2009 at 10:56 pm

Again, this would give women MORE pay and the same, if not more, time off work, not to mention introducing a substantially large portion of time off for the non-birth parent(s). What is there to be upset about?! I really don’t get what people are opposed to. This would mean MORE women would be likely to take the full six months leave at the very least instead of at the most.

Suzi FemAcadem // Posted 6 April 2009 at 11:35 pm

Hi James,

Could you clarify? Upon initial reading you appear to be saying that ‘productive and qualified’ women shouldn’t be given maternity leave in line with their normal earnings because they will disengage from the labour market? Is this correct?

Also, what could be more socially useful than responsibly promoting the parenting of the next generation and creating a reasonable economic background for this to take place?


Ruth // Posted 6 April 2009 at 11:47 pm


social workers on parental leave being paid “huge amounts of money”? Well, seeing as they certainly *don’t* get paid huge amounts when they are working, it’d be nice…

All in favour of redistributive leave and joint parenting on principle here, but realistically, now that many people are employed by small companies, it could be quite difficult for them in the current economic climate, especially if both parents work for the same outfit [I’m assuming capitalism here, true, as currently it’s what we have]…for large companies and the public sector, no excuses.

aimee // Posted 6 April 2009 at 11:51 pm

… Yes it’s better, but it’s not enough! That’s why i’m upset, because I feel it’s a token change which doesn’t really have any benefits in the long run. The system still isn’t fair and it still isn’t good enough.

polly styrene // Posted 7 April 2009 at 8:44 pm

Having children and caring for them IS a job. And it’s about time that was recognised. Where do MPs think they came from? And what about single parents FFS? What do they do?

james // Posted 7 April 2009 at 11:27 pm

“Upon initial reading you appear to be saying that ‘productive and qualified’ women shouldn’t be given maternity leave in line with their normal earnings because they will disengage from the labour market? Is this correct?”

Yes. I can’t see why people fortunate enough to command a large earning potential should be entitled to more money than those not so lucky. The marginal benefit of a stay at home mum vs day care and a working mother for 6 months is very low, it’s certainly not worth the sums of money we’re talking about when it comes to these professionals.

“Also, what could be more socially useful than responsibly promoting the parenting of the next generation and creating a reasonable economic background for this to take place?”

Nothing. Look you can try pull a Whitney Houston on me, but I really think someone whose mum’s a doctor earning £100k a year will probably turn out okay whether or not we give her £45 in order to spend 6 months not curing the sick. The kids of unemployed crack addicts – who won’t be entitled to these resources, what with their parents being poor and out of a job – could probably use the help more. There are more more productive ways of spending the money than making sure they have to deal with a locum to get access to healthcare.

This is a middle class scam.

v // Posted 8 April 2009 at 1:13 pm

Maternity leave isnt just about spending time with the kid ffs. Giving birth is hard fucking work, esp when there are complications. It took me months and months to heal from my c section, and thats without even going into the emotional upheaval, or the side effects from drugs given during labout, mastitis suffered afterwards, etc. Our bodies change a huge amount in a very short amount of time during pregnancy, so the first few months of maternity leave at the very least could be considered partly as time to heal and get back into the swing of things. People dont talk about how womens bodies change during pregnancy, I wont even mention how many women suffer from piles and incontinence for a period afterwards, or the slow healing of painful cuts and rips in very uncomfortable places… oh whoops, im not exactly doing an ad for pregnancy am I! Seriously tho, it has its ups and its downs, but women dont just pop out kids like a motor driven Pez machine, which is the impression i’m given every time I read about women’s and men’s roles in pregnancy, childbirth and the following months as being theoretically ‘equal’.

AND if youre breast feeding, its frickin exhausting! Those first four to six months of breastfeeding before babby starts to switch to solids – I have never been more exhausted in my whole life. Awake at all hours feeding babies, so much of your own vitamins and energy going into them. Yeh, sure, you can express or use formula, but thats not what we all want to do, or should be promoting. It’s like, wouldn’t it be better to make it easier for women to breastfeed and give them the support they need to do it? Like, instead of worrying about whether Dude gets the opportunity to bond with kid over a bottle feed, couldnt we suggest his time might be better spent cleaning the house, changing nappies and making good fat dinners for his breastfeeding partner while she takes well earned and needed naps? You know, supporting her so that she can get on with it?

The fact is, at that early, pre one year old, still switching or not on solids, stage in childs development and mothers own body changes, both parents are not equal. It would be excellent if fathers/other partners could access time off at that stage too, because for sure the healing/feeding mother could do with the support! But workplace discrimination is not best dealt with by promoting the idea that men and women can take an exactly the same role at that stage. What we need is for both parents to be able to access those first (id say six) months *together*, to give everyone the chance to bond, and so that women can heal from birth/get used to their bodys changes and breastfeed without exhausting themselves or pushing themselves too fast. Yeh sure, im asking a lot from a work obsessed capitalist society.. its all wrong and badly organised I tell thee. But anyway, my point is that the time for the second parent shouldnt be thought of as just for the baby but also as a supporting role for the parent who has birthed/is feeding. Workplace discrimination against women should be taken seriously and dealt with properly without all this guff about men needing to take a few weeks off making it all equal. It wont.

NOTE and that means publicly funded organisations (BBC!) not fucking promoting and employing high profile sexist tossers like bloody Alan Sugar who is completely unapologetic in his discrimination against women because of our ability to bear children.

And yeh, as I said at length (sorry), people should get over the idea that women pez machines pop out little sweeties with no consequence or change to our bodies, or that mens roles could ever be the exact same as womens at that time. I know its an unpopular view, but there you go, thats reality for you.

Amity // Posted 8 April 2009 at 5:12 pm

James – your reduction of maternity leave to a simple means-tested mathematical equation is grossly insensitive and extremely arrogant, not to mention ignorant. A woman earning £100k is still going to have a mortgage, bills to pay, etc.. for the duration of her mat leave. How do you propose she pay for those if she is deemed too well off to receive the pay rate that everyone else is getting? 100k a year doesn’t mean she has 100k sitting in a bank account that she can just live off of for whole swathes of time, nor should she have to. The right to maternity pay and leave is something our society has (in theory at least) agreed is fundamental to ALL women; it shouldn’t matter if you’re a CEO or a “crack addict (nice way to polarise two extreme ends of the spectrum, leaving everyone between six-figures and extreme poverty out of the picture, btw). Otherwise, our financial worth would suddenly be subjective and whether we were worthy of mat leave and pay would be decided by some faceless bureaucrat. Middle class scam my foot. This is elitist, simplistic talk if ever I heard it.

Besides all of which, mat leave is not just about the money. It is, first and foremost, about caring for a newborn child and forging a bond that will hopefully have a positive impact on both parent and child for a long time. Placing the financial impact of mat leave over the wellbeing of Britain’s children is shameful.

Aimee // Posted 8 April 2009 at 6:02 pm

V, I agree with you! I think that men and women should be able to have time off work TOGETHER!… I can safely say there is NOTHING more depressing than having to sit at home, alone with a new baby waiting for your partner to come home so you can catch a damn break.

Kez // Posted 8 April 2009 at 6:39 pm

Spot on, V, I agree entirely.

Suzi FemAcadem // Posted 8 April 2009 at 7:14 pm

Well said V!! I really couldn’t have put it better myself.

I think Amity’s response to James says it all really- James your argument is not only simplistic but is also elitist, and closely verging on anti-feminist. I have allowed it because I did ask you to explain your views.

Just to be clear- properly paid parental leave for Mothers and their partners/co- parents shouldn’t even be a contested issue. It should be a given.


maggie // Posted 8 April 2009 at 7:31 pm

With you all the way V.

There definitely should be more equal leave for parents. For my first child I took six months, then went back to work. My husband then worked part time to reduce child care costs. He loved the time spent with daughter no 1. It brought us close and I enjoyed coming home to a cooked meal on the table!

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