Why paternity and maternity leave should be extended to freelancers

3 min
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Despite having the same need to take maternity or paternity leave, freelancers currently don’t have the same level of parental rights as their employed counterparts, and that needs to change, writes Andy Chamberlain, director of policy at IPSE.

In fact, the self-employed aren’t able to access a number of crucial benefits including Statutory Maternity Pay, Shared Parental Leave, Statutory Paternity Pay, Statutory Adoption Pay, Statutory Adoption Leave and the ability to take time off for antenatal care.

What freelance mums are entitled to

Instead, mothers who work on a self-employed basis are only entitled to between £27 and £151.97 for 39 weeks or 90 per cent of their average weekly earnings (whichever is lower). Currently, they also aren’t able to claim more than 10 ‘Keeping In Touch’ (KIT) days, while claiming this support.

Altogether, the lack of maternity leave in the freelancing sector has resulted in 30 per cent of eligible self-employed mothers not claiming maternity allowance at all.

Moreover, our stats add, 31 per cent of mums who freelance have returned to work early for career or financial reasons after giving birth -- cutting down precious time between a new mother and their baby and potentially damaging the child’s long-time development.

Weak support gets weaker for the self-employed's partners

For partners of self-employed workers, support is even more lacking. For instance, partners currently aren’t able to access even basic measures like Shared Parental Leave and Statutory Paternity Pay. Concerningly, this lack of support has resulted in 17 per cent of men and 8 per cent of women taking no time off after the birth or adoption of their children.

Moreover, while the government has announced that it is working on increasing adoption rates following recent drops, self-employed parents are still unable to claim Statutory Adoption Pay or Statutory Adoption Leave.

The inability to claim support is not only adding another barrier to adoption, but also denying the self-employed the rights associated with adoption without discrimination.

A choice that parents who are freelancers shouldn't have to make

The lack of support for mothers, partners and those seeking to adopt is seriously damaging to the long-term future of the self-employed sector. It forces freelancers to choose between continuing working as a self-employed worker and taking the financial risks of having a child without maternity and paternity leave -- or going full-time and getting all the benefits they need to support them. Faced with this choice, some will try and continue working as a freelancer, while others will leave the sector altogether.

While there are complications around how maternity and paternity leave should be funded and administrated to self-employed workers, it is clear that there needs to be an end to the discrimination against new parents in the freelancing sector. The choice between financial hardship and full-time work forces freelancers to leave the independent work sector and rids the economy of the dynamism, ideas and skills that thousands of self-employed workers provide businesses across the country.

It also adds further insecurity to a sector facing a number of financial issues such as IR35.

What government should do

Moving forward, the government needs to conduct a full-scale review into maternity, paternity and adoption leave in the self-employed sector.

If it doesn’t, then thousands of new parents will find that they are suffering financial hardship and are forced to cut their maternity and paternity leave short and return to work. They will also find that one of the most dynamic and innovative parts of the UK economy is suffering as more and more freelancers consider whether they should stay in self-employment or enter full-time work and gain the benefits of maternity and paternity leave.

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