By Richard Dunstan, Policy & Parliamentary Campaigns Officer
A few weeks ago, this blog highlighted the ludicrously low level of statutory maternity and paternity pay, compared to the national minimum wage, the Living Wage, or average earnings. Yet just how new parents are supposed to get by on less than 60 per cent of the minimum wage – at a time when their outgoings have gone through the roof – is not a question you are likely to have heard any politician address recently.
Well, today NCT has had a go at trying to change that, with a great little report – based on some number-crunching by think tank IPPR – demonstrating the detrimental impact on family incomes of the Government’s decision to limit the annual uprating of statutory maternity and paternity pay to one per cent, rather than the inflation rate, in each of the three financial years from April 2013.
As this neat NCT infographic shows, by 2015 parents will effectively lose out by £224 over their full period of parental leave. And this ‘parent penalty’ could have paid for 1,500 nappies, a year’s supply of sleep suits, or two months’ energy bills.
Ahead of this week’s Budget, NCT is calling on the Government to “end this parent penalty and increase maternity and paternity pay in line with the cost of living”.
Hear hear to that. However, as the Valuing Maternity campaign has highlighted, the ‘parent penalty’ actually extends well beyond the cap on the annual uprating of statutory maternity and paternity pay. The campaign notes that the abolition of some benefits – such as the £190 Health in Pregnancy grant – and real-terms reductions in others, including the freeze on Child Benefit, has cost women and their families up to £3,000 since 2010. (If you are pregnant or a new mother in work or on maternity leave, you can use the campaign’s Cutbacks Calculator to see just how much you’ve lost).
What’s more, in the words of employers surveyed by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS), in a report published earlier this month, statutory maternity and paternity pay is simply not “a liveable wage”. And it is “immoral and damaging to society to force new mothers back into work before they [are] ready”. Hear hear to that.
So, in our ‘families & work’ manifesto for 2015, we are likely to call for a series of annual, real-terms increases in the level of statutory maternity and paternity pay, so as to raise it, over time, to at least the national minimum wage. Sure, that would carry a price tag. But seen as investment in Britain’s human capital – and, more specifically, in family health, child development, maternal employment, and gender equality – we believe it is a price well worth paying.