Self Employment and Paternity Leave Needs to Change
My husband and I started our business in 2007, the year before we got married. It’s not easy running a small business in today’s economy, where everything you can dream of can be bought online with the click of a button from massive shops like Amazon. We have managed to make our business a success by being available to offer expert help and advice, often at unreasonable hours, by delivering things to local customers and often spending hours after the shop is closed helping them set up. And through it all, sometimes we come home at less than minimum wage. But we work with animals, and you do that for love and passion, and as long as we’re paying the bills, we’ll keep going as I know we’re helping people and making a difference to our local community. We love our business and our jobs!
So in short, we’re both self employed.
When I found out I was pregnant, I knew it would be tough financially, but at the same time, am grateful for the fact that as a self employed worker, I was entitled to take maternity allowance for 39 weeks. It’s not exactly a lot of money – £145.18 at the time of writing per week. Not enough to live off by any stretch of the imagination, but we knew that we could tighten our budget and make ends meet. Maternity options are a little more limited for those who are self employed as you don’t have a company maternity policy to fall back on, but on the whole I’m not complaining about them.
Why do dads not quality for self employed paternity leave?
What I didn’t realize before I was pregnant is that there is no self employed paternity allowance. Not two weeks. Not one week. Not a single day.
You can find more about who is entitled to what on the government Paternity Pay and Leave page, but the basic spoilers are if you’re unemployed, self employed, or work for an agency, you’re getting zilch.
I experienced a very traumatic birth and then for the icing on the cake, contracted sepsis, whilst the baby had a severe infection that required 7 days of IV antibiotics. I was in the hospital for two weeks, during which time I was so weak I couldn’t even hold my son for more than a few minutes at a time. I was hooked up to an IV drip 24/7 and at one point had 5 IV points in both arms. I couldn’t hold the baby to feed him and my milk never came through even enough to manually express or pump. My husband did every single night feed for the first 2 weeks – that’s every 2 hours, whilst popping home to sleep in the day when my mum came and helped. How is he supposed to do that whilst working?
During this time he didn’t qualify for any paternity leave at all. Once I was home, he couldn’t afford to take off a full day to spend with us, yet recovering from an emergency c-section and sepsis, he was still doing a lot of the night feeds and being an absolute super dad, running himself ragged at home and work. He did an amazing job at holding down the fort from all sides, but now I think back on it I realize it would have been so much easier if we’d had a small extra financial net for those few weeks. That could even have gone towards paying other employees to work extra hours.
During this time, I was visited by the midwives and the health visitor at home and was constantly asked how are you doing? How are you feeling? How are you coping? How is your mood? Did they ask about my husband’s mood and how he was coping? No. A lack of paternity leave definitely takes a mental and physical toll on dad and why is that somehow brushed under the carpet?
Did you know that according to the 2014 Fatherhood Institute Research Summary on Paternity Leave, dads who take paternity leave in the UK are 25% more likely to change nappies and 19% more likely to feed their 8-12 month old babies. That suggests that the bond and structure of the father and child are set quite early – but can have longer lasting impacts than you’d think. Paternity leave is strongly associated with mother’s well being and it has been proven to affect the mother’s first three months quite strongly and can even affect rates of post natal depression.
In a progressive country such as the UK, 2 weeks paternity leave (the legal amount for employed dads) doesn’t seem enough. But if you’re self employed, you don’t even get that.
Paternity leave seems like an afterthought, and someone forgot to think about the self-employed dads out there.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank my husband for being amazing. The best life partner and father I could have hoped for.
Why do dads not qualify for self employed shared parental leave?
Even if mum is working a traditional job and qualifies for maternity leave, she cannot then share that parental leave with a self employed husband. He too has to be traditionally employed to qualify. If I wanted to go back to work early and let my husband take care of his son, we’d both be entitled to nothing. I’d have to give up my maternity pay and he’d get nothing.
If you’re a father and you run a business, you qualify for absolutely nothing.
This puts the entire burden of childcare on the mother – who is often recovering from the birth or still in the hospital. It denies fathers and families the extra financial support that traditionally employed families get and it means that dad has absolutely no time to bond with his child unless he can afford to take unpaid time off.
When thinking about the continuing gender pay gap and gender inequality in the workplace, it’s clear that most employers will still assume that women are a much higher risk for investment – being likely to take time off for children in the future. This affects hiring rates for women. The time that women need to take off work affects their career progression and contributes to the gender pay gap. If both paternity leave and shared parental leave were improved, it could improve the quality and equality for all women in the workplace as well as improving family life.
Shared parental leave was only introduced in 2015, so hopefully in the future it will be adjusted to encompass self employed parents as well. At the time, Nick Clegg, then deputy prime minister, said the introduction of shared parental leave would “sweep away those Edwardian rules which still hold back those families working hard to juggle their responsibilities at home and work” but to us, there is a stark inequality between men and women and employed and self employed.
My husband sacrificed his finances and his health to help me around the clock when I needed it, but not every dad is able to do that and still pay the bills.
It needs to change. Men, women and entire families are suffering because of this inequality.
Please share this on social media to raise awareness and consider emailing your local MP about the issue. This will only change if enough voices can be heard demanding equality for all.