Ahead of this week’s Budget, paternity leave for self employed dads is top of the wish list for Olga Fitzroy, founder of the Parental Pay Equality campaign
As the cases of coronavirus rise, there has been a lot of focus on what happens when self-employed people are asked to self-isolate, but can’t afford to as they don’t get any sick pay. That and the panic-buying of toilet-roll, which says a lot about our priorities as a nation.
As a campaigner for self-employed rights, I welcome this new focus, although it is a shame that it takes the threat of a global pandemic for people to consider what it is like to have no sick pay, holiday pay or much in the way of maternity or paternity pay.
The upcoming budget is an opportunity for the Chancellor to address a number of issues that affect self-employed people, whose numbers have risen to a whopping five million, or 15% of the workforce.
Firstly, the government needs to make funding available to pay those who become ill or need to be quarantined, whether they are legally entitled to it or not. With nearly half of private renters being just one months pay away from losing their home, most families will understandably prioritise having a roof over their head over preventing the spread of a virus that they may or may not have. If the government is serious about containment they must make it feasible for all workers to act responsibly and follow advice.
Secondly, it’s time for the government to take the bull by the horns, and properly level the playing field for self-employed parents. Currently self-employed fathers get no paternity or shared parental pay whatsoever, and self-employed mothers still face much tighter restrictions on them working while on mat leave than any other group.
For International Women’s Day the department of business unveiled a fund to go to women entrepreneurs, and the blurb on the press-release proclaims that if only women scaled their businesses in the same way as men they could contribute £250 billion to the economy.
A cheaper way to ‘empower’ women to grow their businesses would surely be to update the antiquated system of maternity allowance that pretty much forces new mums to shut up shop for the first year. Instead, why not allow self-employed mums and dads to share the maternity allowance and time off according to need as a form of Shared Parental Leave? The mum could keep her business and her sanity ticking over by doing some work, and the dad or other mum could Share The Joy™ of neverending colic and the up-the-back yellow-poo in a public place.
One positive in this budget will be the introduction of additional neonatal leave for parents of babies born prematurely, a fantastic win for a grass-roots campaign by Catriona Ogilvy, founder of The Smallest Things, whose children both spent time in NICU. However, there are no signs that self-employed parents will be included in the new legislation, despite Smallest Things and my own organisation, Parental Pay Equality, calling for this in the consultation.
Perhaps the arrival of his own little bundle of joy will make the PM focus a little more on the needs of working parents, and, as he would no doubt put it, “unleash their potential”.
At a time of great uncertainty for British businesses, where our new place in the world economy is yet to be defined, the government must engage with the self-employed and make sure they are properly supported when they need it most. Otherwise desperate self-employed parents may be forced to subsidise their incomes through black-market sales of hand-sanitiser, (there’s loads of it in NICU!) and flogging bog-roll for 50p a sheet.