Headlines: January 8th, 2004

A call will be made today for maternity pay to be increased to give all mothers a genuine choice about whether to stay at home or work when their children are very young. It will come from the charity, The Maternity Alliance during a debate about the Government’s early years strategy.The Alliance’s director, Liz Kendall, will urge the government to learn from countries like Sweden and Norway, which provide better leave for both mothers and fathers, and to recognise that what many mothers want, particularly when their children are under one, is to be able to stay at home and not be in paid employment.

The Alliance has organised today’s event under the title, ‘The Wonder Years? Next steps for the Government’s Early Years Strategy’ and it will also feature a contribution from former Cabinet minister, Stephen Byers. Liz Kendall will stress the importance of the first years of a child’s life and claim that the early years issue is now at the top of the political agenda.

New mothers in Britain get 6 weeks Statutory Maternity Pay at 90 per cent of their average earnings, followed by 20 weeks pay at a hundred pounds a week. They can take an extra 26 weeks maternity leave but this is unpaid. Statutory Paternity Pay only gives new fathers a hundred pounds a week for two weeks and parental leave is entirely unpaid. The Maternity Alliance says that means mothers feel forced to go back to work sooner than they want.

It points to the situation in Sweden where, parents are entitled to 13 months leave at 80 per cent of their average earnings which can be taken until the child’s eighth birthday, and in Norway where every family is entitled to 52 weeks parental leave at 80 per cent of earnings or 42 weeks at full pay. In both countries a proportion of the leave has to be taken by the father. In Sweden the take-up rate by fathers is 64 per cent and in Norway it is 80 per cent.