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House of Commons Hansard
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Shared Parental Leave and Pay (Extension)
21 February 2018
Volume 636

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

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I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision about shared parental leave and pay for workers, including those that are self-employed; and for connected purposes.

I begin by paying tribute to those who have been campaigning for the provisions in this Bill, which I would not be presenting today were it not for their work and dedication in pushing shared parental leave for all on to the agenda. The campaigners include UK Music, Equity, Parental Pay Equality, Pregnant Then Screwed, the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph and Theatre Union, Parents In Performing Arts, the Music Producers Guild, the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain, Raising Films, the GMB, the TUC and many more.

The self-employed are clustered not just around the creative industries, however; the whole world of work is changing. More and more people are classed as self-employed or as freelancers working in the gig economy, and 15% of British workers define themselves as freelance. Physios, cleaners, builders, beauty therapists, delivery drivers, journalists, engineers, Uber drivers, plumbers, painters and decorators—literally anyone can be self-employed. However, 9% of women and 16% of men are not eligible for shared parental pay because they are self-employed, and there are 24,000 self-employed mums claiming maternity allowance who would benefit from the Bill.

It is encouraging that the Government know the importance of shared parental leave—that was a positive and radical step introduced by the coalition Government in 2015. Sadly, not enough families are taking the opportunity, because although many employers have enhanced maternity schemes, such schemes do not exist for shared parental leave for most employees. That means that many families would be worse off if they signed up to a shared scheme, and keeping the family finances in the black is a priority for most.

It was therefore good last week to see the Government roll out their advertising campaign “Share the joy” to get more dads to take up their entitlement. That is a welcome push when only a disappointing 2% of employees take shared parental leave. Unfortunately, the problems around take-up will probably never be clearer than when the Minister responsible for shared parental leave, the hon. Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths), revealed while doing a media round to promote the policy that, as a Minister, he was in fact not eligible for it. I do not mention that to embarrass him in any way; I simply cite it as an example of how the culture around shared leave needs to change. To do that, 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.

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. That would be a simple way of replicating shared parental leave for freelancers at no extra cost to the taxpayer. Such a move would send a strong message to the country not only that we understand the changing face of work, but that men and women are valued equally in the home and the workplace.

If the policy was extended to the self-employed and freelancers, I believe that there would be no problem with poor take-up. A survey conducted by Parental Pay Equality found that over 70% of freelancers or those with freelance partners would use the scheme if it was available to them. A change to our cultural norms cannot happen overnight, but the self-employed can blaze a trail, helping us to get to a place where it is assumed that partners can—and indeed should—shoulder a significant amount of the childcare. If the number of freelancers who would take up shared parental leave is significant, why are we holding back?

For those who are not au fait with the rules around parental leave for the self-employed, I should point out that under existing legislation, a self-employed mum is entitled to a maternity allowance of £140.98 a week for 39 weeks if they have paid class 2 national insurance for at least 13 of the 66 weeks before their baby is due. Maternity allowance is paid only to mums, but it is withdrawn if the freelance mum does any work beyond the statutory 10 “keeping in touch” days that she is allowed. For example, if a freelance chiropodist took a short contract job that lasted for longer than 10 days, she would immediately lose her maternity allowance and would be unable to reapply. However, a chiropodist who is an employee on maternity leave can work freelance, so long as she does not break the terms of her employment contract, and still get her maternity pay. That is far from ideal, and self-employed women face a difficult Catch-22 situation: stay off work and keep the allowance for the full 39 weeks; or run the risk of taking a one-off job that might not result in regular money. That would be a stressful decision for anyone, let alone a sleep-deprived new mum.

When 95% of small businesses on the Not On The High Street website are run by women, we know that many families out there might benefit from sharing parental leave. Why is it so important that we do this now? This type of work—freelance; self-employed; contract-based—is on the rise. The Office for National Statistics states that at least 4.7 million people are employed in insecure, freelance or self-employed work, and the Government have stated their desire to tackle the problems that such employment can create: less security, fewer rights and often less pay than more conventional employment. Self-employment and the gig economy have recently been the subject of the Taylor review. After Matthew Taylor heard hours of submissions and many detailed recommendations, he conceded that the Government should address parental leave

“where self-employed people lose out.”

This is our chance to get that on the agenda.

Freelance, self-employed or insecure work is not new. It has for decades been a feature of the creative industries, in which 44% of people are self-employed. I worked in the area for over 30 years and my partner still does. It can be tough to pay the bills. Working hours are flexible, with project-based employment, uncertainty, precariousness, and irregular and often unreliable payment. There is no nine-to-five working and little stability, and looking for work can take up nearly as much time as actually doing the job. Today, however, the working patterns and insecurities of the creative industries are not an anomaly; they are becoming the norm. The idea of starting a family—another mouth to feed and no guarantee of work—can be terrifying for any freelance couple. Obviously, money is tight for any new parent, but it is even more so for those in the gig economy or insecure work.

Employing 2 million people, the creative industries are, of course, a success story, but areas for improvement remain. More often than not, it is the woman who compromises on her career to bring up the family. She is the one who steps out of the industry because two freelancers just cannot make the finances work. Or, once back at work, she is the one who is expected to stay off with the children when they are ill, who goes part time to fit around school hours, or who is expected to dash home early when childcare falls through.

We only have to look at the recent BAFTA awards to see how bearing the bulk of childcare can affect career progression. Women still lag behind men when the gongs are being dished out, and the statistics back that up. According to research from Raising Films, 74% of creative workers surveyed have turned down work because they are a parent, while 22% said that their career had come to a halt or had stopped altogether once they had a child. All that talent, training and dedication is lost because there is not enough support for self-employed families with young children. We need to change the culture, and to do so we need to start right at the beginning, when the baby is born.

As I mentioned at the beginning of my speech—I know how much those on the Treasury Bench appreciate a good deal, so this is worth repeating—the Bill would come at no extra cost to the taxpayer. Maternity allowance is already paid to new mothers; this is a win-win for the Treasury. The Bill would also mean that men would have more chance to spend time with their babies, allowing women to pick up opportunities as they present themselves.

Although I believe that the maternity allowance should be increased, the Bill is not about that. It is simply about giving freelancers and the self-employed the right to share the current allowance.

This Bill is simple but significant. It would allow maternity allowance to be shared in blocks between parents who work as freelancers, replicating the way in which shared parental leave works for those in more conventional employment. The Bill is fair and progressive, and it would complement current Government policy, not disturb it. It would help to close the gender pay gap, proving to the world that Britain is serious. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Tracy Brabin, Mrs Maria Miller, Mr Edward Vaizey, Alison Thewliss, Caroline Lucas, Jo Swinson, Tom Watson, Kevin Brennan, Emma Reynolds, Luciana Berger, Rachel Reeves and Rebecca Long Bailey present the Bill.

Tracy Brabin accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 11 May, and to be printed (Bill 167).

Finance Bill (Programme) (No. 2)

Ordered,

That the Order of 11 December 2017 (Finance (No. 2) Bill: Programme) be varied as follows:

1. Paragraphs (10) and (11) of the Order shall be omitted.

2. Proceedings on Consideration shall be taken in the order shown in the first column of the following Table.

3. Each part of the proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the times specified in the second column of the Table.

TABLE

Proceedings

Time for conclusion of proceedings

New Clauses, new Schedules and amendments relating to the effect of the Bill on equality

Two hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order

New Clauses, new Schedules and amendments relating to the bank levy; new Clauses, new Schedules and amendments relating to the effect of the Bill on tax avoidance or evasion

Three and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order

New Clauses, new Schedules and amendments relating to stamp duty land tax; remaining new Clauses, new Schedules and amendments to Clauses and Schedules; remaining proceedings on Consideration

Five hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order

4. Proceedings in legislative grand committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion five hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order.

5. Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion six hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order.— (Mel Stride.)