Corbyn promises parental leave for self-employed

Friday 9 October 2015

During the political conference season, many politicians like to take advantage of heightened media attention to launch major policies and commitments. While unconventional in other areas, new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was no different in this respect.

One of the big promises in his first conference speech as party leader was to look at offering statutory maternity and paternity leave, along with sick pay, to the UK’s self-employed workers.

In a remark that seemed to be at least partly a response to accusations that he is a threat to the UK’s national security, Mr Corbyn asked: “Where’s the security for hundreds of thousands taking on self-employment with uncertain income, no sick pay, maternity pay, no paid leave, no pension?”

He added: “It’s no surprise nine out of ten self-employed people don’t think the welfare system is fair to them.”

At present, statutory maternity pay is paid for 39 weeks. It consists of 90 per cent of a mother’s average earnings for the first six weeks and then a maximum of £139.58 for the following 33 weeks. Statutory paternity pay is a maximum of £139.58 a week for up to two weeks. Statutory sick pay is £88.45 per week for employees who have been ill for at least four days, and can be paid for up to 28 weeks.

Laying out his proposals, Mr Corbyn said: quote marks I want our policy review to tackle this in a really serious way and consider opening up statutory maternity and paternity pay to the self-employed, so all newborn children can get the same level of care from their parents.

“Labour created the welfare state as an expression of a caring society but all too often that safety net is not there for self-employed people. It must be.”

While his speech was relatively light on specific policies, it is notable that he used the occasion to take up the cause of the self-employed. The move may well be a bid to counter suggestions that his left-wing politics are anti-business.

This is something of a contrast to the speech of his shadow chancellor John McDonnell, who promised to get tough on corporate tax avoiders. Mr McDonnell went as far as comparing the current enforcement of tax collection for big business to a form of “corporate welfare”.

Given these strong words, it seems that Labour is keen to set up a new dichotomy between small businesses and self-employed workers who pay their taxes and boost the economy, compared to multinational corporations that may avoid taxation and pay low wages.

The lack of economic security in the face of illness or major life events such as starting a family is often cited by those considering self-employment as a significant reason they are reluctant to make the switch. However, other highly skilled contractors feel that the higher rates they can command on a regular basis are enough to tide them through such periods, or feel that they are unlikely to be affected by them.

By Victoria McDonnell

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