These Are The Best (& Worst) Countries For Maternity Leave

illustrated by Louisa Cannell.
The UK has been named one of the least family-friendly countries in Europe by children's charity Unicef.
Unicef based their rankings on a range of family-friendly government policies including paid parental leave, support for breastfeeding, and affordable childcare and preschool education.
Of the 31 European countries ranked, the UK placed 28th – immediately behind Ireland in 27th. Sweden was ranked first, with Norway, Iceland, Estonia and Portugal completing the top five.
The UK's statutory maternity leave is paid for up to 39 weeks. The first 6 weeks at 90% of your average weekly earnings (before tax) and then at a rate of £148.68 or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for the next 33 weeks.
This was deemed to be equivalent to 12 weeks of leave at full pay.
This puts the UK well behind Sweden, where 35 weeks of full pay is guaranteed for new mothers, as well as Germany (43 weeks), France (19 weeks), Spain (16 weeks) and Italy (25 weeks).
Ireland's maternity leave provision of just nine weeks at full pay is the second-worst in Europe. Only Switzerland, which provides eight weeks at full pay, offers less.
The UK offers new fathers two weeks' statutory paternity leave at £149 a week, a provision that Unicef deemed equivalent to 0.4 weeks at full pay.
This pales in comparison to Sweden, where new fathers are offered 10.9 weeks at full pay, as well as Germany (5.7 weeks), France (5.6 weeks) and Spain (2 weeks). Italy's paternity leave provision is the same as the UK's.
Alongside the report, Unicef re-iterated the fact that it advocates for "at least six months of paid leave for parents, and for universal access to quality, affordable childcare from birth to children’s entry into the first grade of school".
"There is no time more critical to children’s brain development – and therefore their futures – than the earliest years of life," said Unicef's Executive Director Henrietta Fore. "We need governments to help provide parents with the support they need to create a nurturing environment for their young children. And we need the support and influence of the private sector to make this happen."
Since 2015, new parents in the UK have also been able to take advantage of the government's Shared Parental Leave scheme, which allows them to divvy up 50 weeks of leave (37 of them paid) however they see fit.
However, it was reported in February 2018 that just 2% of eligible couples were actually taking up this option. This disappointing take-up has been blamed on a lack of awareness and understanding of how Shared Parental Leave works, but the gender pay gap also plays a part: because women in full-time work earn an average of 8.6% less than men, they are more likely to sacrifice their lower pay cheque in favour of caring for a baby.
Thankfully, some employers offer much greater support to new parents than the statutory minimum. A list of the top 10 companies in the UK for maternity leave and shared parental leave was compiled earlier this year.
An earlier version of this article made an incorrect statement about the duration of the UK's statutory maternity leave which is paid for up to 39 weeks.

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