The government should extend shared parental leave to contractors, IPSE has demanded. The call from the contracting industry group came as the government launched a campaign aiming to boost uptake of the rights, and against the background of the minister responsible for the launch admitting to the BBC that, like self-employed people, he himself was not entitled to the benefit.
Ministers are hoping to boost uptake of the right, which allows both parents to share up to 50 weeks leave following the birth of their child, either splitting up the childcare duties or with both partners at home for 6 months. During their leave parents can claim up to 37 weeks of Shared Parental Pay worth up to £141 a week. The scheme is only open to employees however, not to the self-employed, including contractors and other freelancers.
The only option available to freelancers, and others who have not been an employee of the same employers for at least 40 weeks prior to the birth is maternity allowance, paternity pay is not an option for contractors who become a dad. Unlike with shared parental leave, where parents can swap which partner returns to work or takes on the childcare duties twice during the period, rules on maternity allowance mean that a self-employed mother must take a single block of up to 39 weeks’ leave. During this time she can work for a maximum of 10 “keep in touch” days to stay connected with her business, before she is deemed to have returned to work.
IPSE’s Economic and Political Advisor, Tom Purvis highlighted that this puts self-employed people in a damaging position. “This is 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. Instead, many self-employed people cut their leave short,” he said in a response on the group’s website.
Launching the “Share the Joy” publicity effort Andrew Griffiths, a junior minister at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (DBEIS), said that shared parental leave plays an important role in the government’s plans for the economy: “We know that flexibility in work is proven to create happier, more loyal and more productive workforces. Providing truly flexible employment options is a key part of the Industrial Strategy,” he told press. As IPSE pointed out however, self-employed people, among the most flexible of Britain’s workforce, are being denied access to this freedom.
The self-employed might have a reason to hope that Griffiths will pay attention to their position, among the roles in his portfolio he is the Minister with Responsibility for Small Business. A second reason emerged as he did the rounds of TV and radio shows to support this week’s launch. Speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live’s Emma Barnett Show, Griffiths, who will become a father in April, acknowledged that he too is ineligible to take shared parental leave – like company directors, MPs are deemed to be office holders rather than employees.
DBEIS is launching its publicity effort to boost uptake of the entitlement, which became available in 2015, but is taken up by as little as two percent of eligible parents. IPSE’s Purvis suggests supporting the self-employed would be an ideal solution. “Shared parental leave can give parents much more additional flexibility, but evidently far too few are taking advantage of it. Perhaps one of the most significant reasons is that this invaluable option hasn’t been extended to the people who need it most: the self-employed…IPSE is calling on the Government to take the first step by extending shared parental leave to this vital and growing sector.” he said. Expectant contractors probably shouldn’t hold their breath though.