The Labour MP for Batley and Spen, Tracy Brabin, the current shadow education secretary, has this week delivered her bill in the House of Commons calling on the government to support a plan to extend shared parental leave (SPL) to freelancing, contracting and self-employed workers.

Recent figures have shown that the uptake of the government’s flexible work and pay scheme has to date been woeful, with only around 2% of those entitled to it actually making use of it.

In her address to the Commons, Brabin emphasised the changed landscape of work in the UK, with a huge increase in the number of flexible workers. These people now total 15% of the UK’s workforce. But, she observed, 9% of working men and 16% of working women are not eligible for shared parental leave purely because they are classified as self-employed.

24,000 self-employed mothers claiming maternity allowance, she noted, would benefit from this bill. It would allow this allowance to be shared in blocks between freelancing parents, mirroring the way shared parental leave works for people in more traditional employment.

The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed (IPSE), a leading body representing contracting professionals, warmly welcome the decision by parliament to agree to the preparation of Brabin’s bill.

IPSE’s Policy Advisor, Imogen Farhan, said that current policies place the total burden of childcare on freelancing mothers while simultaneously denying freelancing fathers the chance to bond with their children. As such, she said, they reinforce gender inequalities both at home and at work. The bill represents an important first step in changing such discriminatory laws.

Citing data showing that employees have been slow to take up SPL, Farhan said that uptake would surely increase if it were made available to the self-employed as it would grant parents working in this way the flexible support they so badly need. Unlike maternity allowance (the sole parental pay available presently to the self-employed) which must be taken in one block, parents can take SLP in three separate blocks instead. A recent survey, she noted, had shown that 88% of freelancing mothers would have liked the chance to break their maternity leave into blocks.

SPL, she emphasised, would also crucially allow freelancers more time than maternity allowance to look after their businesses and client relations during the early months of parenthood.

Farhan added, “It is simply not acceptable that there is still so little support for self-employed parents. Given that extending SPL to the self-employed would be essentially cost-neutral, it is hard to understand why Government is holding back support to this vital and growing sector.”

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