UK lags behind rest of Europe for maternity leave, union warns
The UK is almost bottom of a European league table for maternity leave, according to a new study.
Research by the TUC found that the UK ranks 22 out of 24 countries across Europe that offer statutory maternity leave.
Mothers in the UK are entitled to six weeks' decently-paid maternity leave, compared with six months in Croatia, more than four months in Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, and at least three months in Estonia, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Denmark, France, Malta and Switzerland, said the report.
The only European countries offering less decently-paid maternity leave than the UK are Ireland and Slovakia, said the TUC.
General Secretary Frances O'Grady said: "The UK is in the relegation zone when it comes to decently-paid maternity leave.
"Many European countries offer decent support to new mums, but lots of parents here are forced back to work early to pay the bills."
Most employed mothers are entitled to 52 weeks' maternity leave and 39 weeks' statutory maternity pay (SMP) or maternity allowance.
SMP for eligible women is usually paid at 90% of average weekly earnings for the first six weeks, with the remaining 33 weeks at £139.58 or 90% of their average weekly earnings, whichever is lower.
The TUC added that women who earn under £112 a week are not eligible for SMP and receive no paid maternity leave.
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: "The truth is the UK's maternity system is one of the most generous in the world, and most mothers can take up to 39 weeks of guaranteed pay.
"This is nearly three times the EU minimum requirement of 14 weeks."
Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, said: "In theory mothers get a generous length of maternity leave but many feel they have to go back to work before they are ready simply because they can't afford to stay off.
"Others would share leave with their baby's father but it's paid so low that he can't afford to take it either. So everybody loses out.
"We need maternity and paternity pay that is paid close to replacement rate so that mothers and fathers can afford to take it and a longer dedicated period of non-transferable leave for dads so that parents can choose to genuinely share care."