Employment

Spain is considering giving single parents double parental leave. Will the UK follow suit?

Single parents have less financial and practical flexibility than couple parents, could giving them double the time off be the answer?

Statutory maternity pay is currently £156.66 a week in the UK. Image: Paul Hanaoka / Unsplash

The cost of childcare in Britain is soaring to such heights that for some parents it’s cheaper to quit their job altogether than continue paying for childcare. If we’re looking for solutions, we may want to look to Spain.

The Spanish Supreme Court is set to decide whether to offer single-parent families double the amount of parental leave.

Spanish parents are currently entitled to 16 weeks of paid leave, which would mean that a child being cared for by two parents could spend the first 32 weeks of their life being cared for by a parent. 

The question is, does this discriminate against children growing up in single parent households, who can only receive 16 weeks of parental care?

In some regions of the country, such as Catalonia, the Basque Country and Extremadura, single parents have been granted the extra leave, but in others such as Navarra and the Canary Islands, the courts are denying it. So, the Supreme Court has stepped in and will make a national ruling on the issue, The Local ES reports.

“It’s good to see Spain is considering the needs of single parents,” said Victoria Benson, CEO at Gingerbread, the charity for single parent families. “We’d certainly welcome our government paying more attention to [them] when it comes to policy making.”

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In the UK, one in five parents have had to leave their jobs due to the cost of childcare, according to Pregnant then Screwed, with 62 per cent saying they work fewer hours because of childcare costs. The average cost of full-time nursery for a child aged under two is around £14,000 a year.

“Single parent families have much less financial and practical flexibility than couple parent families and we know that many single parents struggle to access and afford childcare over the long school holidays,” Benson continued. 

Britain’s parental leave scheme already falls “far behind Spain” said Lauren Fabianski, head of communications and campaigns at Pregnant Then Screwed. “Only one parent [is] offered six weeks at 90 per cent of salary by law before moving onto a low rate of statutory pay for the remainder of parental leave.”

The charity suggested that the UK government follow in the country’s footsteps by introducing parity in paid leave. 

“Single parents shouldn’t be penalised for doing one of the hardest jobs in the world without a partner, instead they should be supported to thrive,” Fabianski said.

“We need to see a minimum of six weeks paid at 90 per cent for all parents, not just the birthing parent – and then we need to enable single parents to double their allowance and take 12 weeks off at 90 per cent.”

In what could be a godsend for struggling working parents, the Treasury is considering a proposal to massively expand free childcare to one- and two-year-olds in England. 

Asked whether doubling parental leave for single parents is something the government might consider, a spokesperson from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said they were “committed to ensuring parental leave is fair and works for parents”.

“(N)ew mothers are already entitled to 52 weeks of leave and 39 weeks of statutory maternity pay – nearly three times the EU maternity pay minimum.

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“We also recognise that families and early years providers across the country are facing financial pressures, and that’s why we have spent more than £20 billion over the past five years to support families with the cost of childcare.”

Statutory maternity pay is currently set at £156.66 a week, leaving new mothers to live on around £626.64 a month for nearly 10 months. 

Pregnant then Screwed and Gingerbread are both campaigning for all UK jobs to be advertised as flexible by default to allow all working parents to better juggle childcare and working commitments, keeping them in their jobs and earning a wage. 

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