Call to extend shared parental leave to freelancers

Poor adoption of shared parental leave could be overcome if the government extended it to the self-employed, a freelancing body says.

It would also give all new parents – not just those who are employees with 40 weeks continuous work for their employer -- additional flexibility, appeals IPSE.

And it is freelancers and others who run their own business that need the right with their spouse to share up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay after having a baby the most.

“This invaluable option hasn’t been extended to the people who need it most: the self-employed,” Tom Purvis, IPSE’s economic adviser said of the right, introduced in 2015.

He was speaking after official figures showed that out of the 285,000 couples eligible for shared parental leave, take-up of it since its introduction could be as a low as two per cent.

The government is unveiling a £1.5million advertising campaign in an attempt to boost uptake, alongside new tools, such as a factsheet and case studies, as well as written guidance

But it’s not enough according to the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE).

“Right now, if you are a self-employed person, you can only access maternity allowance, not full maternity pay or shared parental leave,” it said.

“This means that instead of having flexible parental leave options, self-employed people have no choice other than to take 39 weeks off with only ten ‘keeping in touch days’ to keep their businesses ticking over.”

Purvis added that this approach can be “very damaging,” because often self-employed people cannot afford to take 39 weeks off without harming the future of their businesses.

“For most it is near-impossible to maintain client relations and other key aspects of their businesses in just ten short days,” he said. “Instead, many self-employed people cut their leave short.”

However, reflecting on the new campaign to raise awareness of the childcare flexibility option, business minister Andrew Griffiths failed to factor-in parents who have ‘gone it alone’ and now work for themselves.

“Shared Parental Leave gives choice to families,” he claimed. “Dads and partners don’t have to miss out on their baby’s first step, word or giggle – they can share the childcare, and share the joy.”

The minister added that “providing truly flexible employment options” was a “key part” of the government’s Industrial Strategy. 

But it’s the government’s usually principled approach around such issues that makes Purvis think that shared parental leave is overdue for self-employed people.

“Considering the importance of self-employment to the UK economy – and the growing number of women choosing to work for themselves – it is simply not acceptable that there is still so little support for self-employed parents.”

He also said: “The system is too rigid to benefit self-employed people who are looking to support their businesses. Just as the self-employed inject flexibility into the economy, so the parental benefits system needs a shot of flexibility too.” 

According to the business department, about half of parents have heard of share parental leave – which covers their baby’s first year, but only 8 per cent say they know a lot of about the policy.

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