Maternity Leave in the UK

It’s Mat Leave Monday! Today I’m talking about maternity leave in the UK. This is intended mostly as a comparison with the Canadian system, since I have never even been to the UK, let alone collected maternity there. If you are actually in the UK, you can find much better info here and here. 🙂

In the UK, birth and adoptive mothers are entitled to 52 weeks of maternity leave. The first 26 weeks are called ‘Ordinary Maternity Leave’ and the second 26 weeks are called ‘Additional Maternity Leave’. All birth mothers are required to take a minimum of 2-4 weeks of leave after their baby is born, called ‘Compulsory Maternity Leave’. This is not in addition to the Ordinary Maternity Leave, it’s just the absolute minimum that you can take.

Fathers are not entitled or able to share in maternity leave in the UK. However, they can receive 1-2 weeks of paid paternity leave, which is completely independent of the mother’s leave. Parents are also eligible to take up to 13 weeks of unpaid leave during the first 5 years of each child’s life.

Employers pay for maternity and paternity benefits in the UK. To qualify for pay you must have been employed by the same employer continuously for 26 weeks by the 15th week before the baby is due. Adoptive parents must have been employed continuously with the same employer for the 26 weeks before they are matched with a child. The self-employed do not qualify, much like in Canada. You must also make a minimum of £90 per week. If you don’t meet these minimum requirements, you may be able to receive Maternity Allowance through the government.

The government mandates a minimum Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP). For the first 6 weeks SMP is 90% of your weekly salary, then for 33 weeks you receive £123.06 or 90% of your weekly salary, whichever is less. Adoptive parents also receive 39 weeks of pay, all of it at £123.06 or 90% of your weekly salary, whichever is less. Because you may take up to 52 weeks of leave, this means that the last 13 weeks may be unpaid.

An important thing to remember is that maternity leave is paid for by employers in the UK. This means that any individual company may offer better pay or longer leave. SMP represents the minimum required by law. I have no idea if most employers simply offer SMP, or if it’s common for better benefits to be granted.

So, how does this compare to Canada? If you’re not familiar with Canadian maternity leave, you can check out my posts here and here. Financially, EI wins over SMP. The median income of Canadians employed full-time was $41,401 according to the 2006 census. In the UK the 2006 survey indicated that median weekly earnings for women were £387. A Canadian woman making the median income would receive $21,750 in EI benefits over her 52 weeks of leave. A British woman making the median income would receive approximately $11,000 Canadian in SMP over 39 weeks. Even if a Canadian woman only took 39 weeks of leave, she would still receive $16,965. Of course, a British employer may offer more pay than SMP.

There are other advantages to the Canadian system. We are required to have 600 hours of insurable income, but that could be with multiple employers. In the British system they must have 26 weeks continuously with the same employer. And in the Canadian system fathers may share all or part of the 35 weeks of parental leave, meaning that dads may have months of paid leave with their babies.

However, the UK system offers a few pluses as well. For one thing, there is a government-sponsored Maternity Allowance for those who don’t qualify for SMP. As I understand it, this means that the self-employed may receive some benefits. The UK system is also more inclusive of adoptive parents, since in Canada adoptive moms do not qualify for the 17-week maternity leave. And British mothers receive paid time off for prenatal appointments, too, helping ensure healthy pregnancies.

It is clear that both the UK and Canada are taking the health of new mothers and babies seriously. While both systems have benefits and drawbacks, they are both examples of how countries can work to give young families the best start possible.

Edited: In 2009 SMP increased from £117.18 to £123.06 per week. This post was edited to reflect the increase.

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  1. I got a message about this post, and the sender has agreed that I can share it anonymously since it offers some actual first-hand experience. 🙂

    I was just reading your blog about maternity in the UK. I found it really interesting. I [lived there a couple of years] ago and have a friend who has just returned to work from maternity. Their system offers so much less to the moms (or I should say mums)! 117 pounds is nothing to live on. I lived … 1 1/2 hours out of London. I shared a flat with 4 other people and it was subsidized by the school (a perk to attract teachers). My room was very small, but rent was 385 pounds.

    My friend has been teaching at this school for 10 years and was only able to take 3 months off. Her husband left her during the pregnancy so she could not afford to live off this little amount. So when her son was 10 weeks old she returned to school full time.

    Could you imagine? Teaching is a good job. It still takes 4+ years of uni and then you can only get 117 pounds??? That wouldn’t even cover rent for most people forget about food, clothes, diapers…

  2. michelle says:

    And British mothers receive paid time off for prenatal appointments, too, helping ensure healthy pregnancies.

    Is this the case for Canada? Can your employer force you to take vacation time to attend prenatal appointments?

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  1. […] lives in the UK. (Before you check out her post, you might want to read my summary of Maternity Leave in the UK as a quick primer.) She struggled with some bureaucracy of her own, as she writes in The Moral: […]

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