Batley and Spen MP Tracy Brabin has given fresh hope to freelancers and the self-employed today after proposing her first 10 minute rule bill which would allow equal access to shared parental leave and pay.
The transformative bill, which has cross-party support and is backed by industry, unions, campaign groups and celebrities including Chris Martin from Coldplay, would mean that freelancers and the self-employed are no longer unfairly excluded from shared parental leave legislation.
Shared parental leave was introduced in 2015 and it allows parents to share leave and maternity pay following the birth of their child. But freelancers and the self-employed, who number 4.7m in Britain, are frozen out of the scheme.
The new bill aims to redress this inequality.
Under the bill, freelancers and the self-employed would gain access to shared parental leave and pay without any extra cost to the taxpayer.
This would mean that the almost 14% of people who are self-employed in Yorkshire and Humberside would have the same rights as those in more conventional employment.
Batley and Spen MP Tracy Brabin said in a 10 minute speech in Parliament: “I would like to begin by paying tribute to those who have been campaigning for the provisions called for in this bill.
I wouldn’t be presenting it here today if it wasn’t for their work and dedication in pushing shared parental leave for all on to the agenda.
Music UK, Equity, Parental Pay Equality, Pregnant then Screwed, BECTU, Writers Guild, Raising Films, PIPA, the GMB, the TUC and many more. But the self-employed are not just clustered around the creative industries.
The whole world of work is changing. More and more people are classed as self-employed or freelance, working in the gig economy. 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.
But 9% of women and 16% of men aren’t eligible for Shared Parental Pay because they’re self-employed.
And there are 24,000 self-employed mums claiming Maternity Allowance who would benefit from this bill. What is encouraging is that the government know Shared Parental Leave is important.
It was a positive and radical step introduced by the Coalition government in 2015
Sadly not enough families are taking the opportunity because where many employers have enhanced maternity schemes, for most employees such schemes don’t exist for shared parental leave, meaning many families would be worse off if they signed up to it.
And for most, keeping the family finances in the black is a priority.
So it was good to see, last week, the government roll out their advertising campaign – ‘Share the joy’ – to get more dads to take up their entitlement.
A welcome push when only a disappointing 2% of employees take shared parental leave.
Unfortunately, the problems around take-up will never be clearer than when the very Minister responsible for Shared Parental Leave – the honorable member for Burton – revealed last week that, as a minister, he was ineligible.
I don’t mention this to embarrass the member in any way, but simply to use 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.
Parity between the traditionally employed and the self-employed. This bill would do just that.
Currently self-employed mums who have given birth must take their statutory maternity allowance in one go – they can’t return to work for a month or two then resume their allowance.
My bill would allow freelance partners to decide who receives the allowance so a mum can take a block when she’s ready or wants to re-enter the workplace while the family still receives the regular income from the Maternity Allowance.
A simple of way of replicating shared parental leave for freelancers at no extra cost to the taxpayer.
A move which I think will send a strong message to the country that not only do we understand the changing face of work, but we believe that men and women are valued equally in the home and the work place.
I’d also say to ministers that if the policy was extended to the self-employed and freelancers, I believe there wouldn’t be any problem with poor take up.
A survey conducted by Parental Pay Equality found over 70% of freelancers, or those with freelance partners, would use the scheme if it was available for them in the future.
A change to our cultural norms doesn’t happen overnight but I believe the self-employed can blaze a trail in leading the way, helping us to get to a place where it’s assumed that partners can and indeed should shoulder a significant amount of the childcare.
So if the numbers of freelancers that would take up Shared Parental Leave are significant, why are we holding back?
For those not au fait with the rules around parental leave for the self-employed, under current legislation a self-employed mum is entitled to Maternity Allowance of £140.98 per week for 39 weeks – if they have paid Class 2 National Insurance for at least 13 of the 66 weeks before baby’s due.
Maternity allowance is paid only to mums.
But that is withdrawn if the freelance mum does any work beyond the statutory 10 ‘Keeping In Touch’ days she’s allowed.
For example, if a freelance chiropodist took a short contract job that lasted for longer than 10 days, she’d immediately lose her Maternity Allowance and wouldn’t be able to reapply.
But a chiropodist who’s an employee on maternity leave can work freelance so long as it doesn’t break the terms of her employment contract and still get her maternity pay.
Far from ideal and a difficult catch 22 position for self-employed women. Stay off work and keep the £140.98 allowance for the full 39 weeks.
Take the risk of taking a one-off job that might not result in regular money. A stressful decision for anyone, let alone a sleep-deprived new mum.
When 95% of small businesses on NotOnTheHIghStreet.com are run by women, we know there are many families out there who might benefit from sharing the parental leave.
So, why is it so important that we do this now?
Because this type of work – freelance, self-employed, contract based – is on the rise.
We know from the ONS that at least 4.7 million people are employed in insecure, freelance or self-employed work.
The Government has stated its desire to tackle the problems this sort of employment can create less security. Fewer rights. Often less pay than more conventional employment.
Self-employment and the gig economy has recently been the subject of the Taylor Review.
And whilst Matthew Taylor heard hours of submissions and many detailed recommendations there’s still no mention of shared parental leave for the self-employed in his report. This is our chance to get it on the agenda.
Because freelance, self-employed and insecure work isn’t new. It’s been a feature of the creative industries for decades. 44% of the creative industries are self-employed. I worked in it for over 30 years and my partner still does.
And it can be tough to pay the bills.
Working hours are flexible, with project-based employment, uncertainty, precariousness, and irregular and often unreliable payment. No 9 to 5, very little stability, while looking for work can take up nearly as much time as actually doing the job.
But today, the working patterns and insecurities of the creative industries aren’t an anomaly. They’re becoming the norm.
And for any freelance couple the idea of starting a family can be terrifying. Another mouth to feed and no guarantee of work. Obviously for any new parent money is tight.
But for those in the gig economy or insecure work, it’s even more so. Employing 2 million people, the creative industries are of course a success story, but areas for improvement remain.
More often than not it’s the woman who compromises on her career to bring up the family.
She is the one that steps out of the industry because as two freelancers they just can’t make the finances work.
Or once back at work, is the one expected to stay off with the children when they’re ill, goes part-time to fit round school hours or is the one expected to dash home early when childcare falls through.
You only have to look at the recent BAFTA awards to see how bearing the bulk of childcare can impact on career progression.
Women still lag behind men when they’re dishing out the gongs.
And the statistics back it up.
According to research from Raising Films, 74% of creative workers surveyed turned down work because they were a parent
22% said their career had come to a halt or stopped altogether once they had a child.
All that talent. All that training and dedication lost because there’s not enough support for self-employed families with young children.
So we need to change the culture and to do it, we need to start right at the beginning – when the baby is born.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this speech – and I know how much the Treasury benches appreciate a good deal – so I think it’s worth repeating – what I’m proposing comes at no extra cost to the tax payer.
Maternity Allowance is already paid to new mothers. It’s a win win for the treasury.
It also means men having more of a chance to spend time with their babies allowing women to pick up opportunities as they present themselves.
And although I personally believe that the amount of the allowance should be increased, this bill isn’t about that.
This bill is simply to give freelancers and the self-employed the right to share the current allowance.
So the Bill I put forward today, is simple but significant. Fair and progressive.
A bill to complement current government policy, not disturb it.
Help close the gender pay gap, proving to the world that Britain is serious when it comes to gender equality.
I commend this bill to the house.”