‘First step’ to give freelancers shared parental leave taken

The first step to extend shared parental leave to freelancers and the self-employed has been taken in parliament.

Read by Tracy Brabin MP, a new bill will allow “maternity allowance to be shared in blocks between freelance parents, replicating the way shared parental leave works for those in more conventional employment.”

She welcomed the launch of a new government campaign entitled ‘share the joy,’ pointing out that it is designed to get more dads to take up their entitlement to the leave, known as SPL.

But it was mums who Brabin highlighted in outlining how her bill could help all freelancers – those in the creative industries, she said, but now as much as 15% of the UK workforce in other sectors, working as self-employed.

“Self-employed mums who have given birth currently must take their statutory maternity allowance in one go. They cannot return to work for a month or two and then resume their allowance.

My bill would allow freelance partners to decide who receives the allowance so that a mum could take a block when she was ready or wanted to re-enter the workplace, while the family still received a regular income from the maternity allowance,” she said.

“That would be a simple way of replicating shared parental leave for freelancers at no extra cost to the taxpayer.”

In line with freelancers group IPSE, which supports a campaign to get SPL extended to the self-employed, the MP said the currently “poor take-up” of it would no longer be a problem.

“Tracy Brabin’s bill is an important first step”, says Imogen Farhan, policy advisor at the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE).

“Opening it out to the self-employed would surely increase uptake because it would give self-employed parents the flexible support they so badly need.

“This is particularly because SPL can be taken in three separate blocks, whereas Maternity Allowance -- the only parental pay currently open to the self-employed -- must be taken in one block.”

The association adds that SPL for freelancers would also help mothers maintain their self-employed business during the early months of parenthood.

At present, self-employed mothers claiming Maternity Allowance can work for just ten ‘Keeping In Touch’ (KIT) days, and if they want to work for longer, they have to stop claiming Maternity Allowance.

“It is near-impossible to maintain client relations and other key aspects of their businesses in just ten short days,” said Farhan. “With SPL, however, they would be able to work up to 20 days – as well as the 10 KIT days. This would be an invaluable lifeline to self-employed parents”.

Ms Brabin, whose bill gets its second reading in May, described her proposal as “simple but significant.” She also revealed that it’s likely to have at least one Conservative MP supporter:

“The problems around take-up will probably never be clearer than when the minister responsible for shared parental leave, Andrew Griffiths, revealed while doing a media round to promote the policy that, as a minister, he was in fact not eligible for it.”

According to Ms Brabin, her anecdote shows how “the culture around shared leave needs to change.”

“To do that,” she added, “we need to give more people more choice, and we need parity between the traditionally employed and the self-employed. The bill would achieve just that.”

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