Of the 41 countries across the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) and the European Union (EU), Estonia offers the best maternity leave package, providing 85 weeks of leave at full pay, according to research by charity Unicef.
The report, Are the world’s richest countries family-friendly? Policy in the OECD and EU, published in June 2019, used 2016 data from the OECD and Eurostat. It also found that Hungary offers new mothers 72 weeks of fully paid leave, while Bulgaria provides 61. At the other end of the scale, Australia, New Zealand and Switzerland were found to offer the shortest durations of fully paid maternity leave, providing less than 10 weeks at full pay.
The UK ranks at number 34 out of 41 OECD and EU countries when it comes to maternity leave packages. The United States is the only country in the report with no national paid leave policy for mothers or fathers.
Henrietta Fore, executive director at Unicef, said: “There is no time more critical to children’s brain development, and therefore their futures, than the earliest years of life. We need governments to help provide parents with the support they need to create a nurturing environment for their young children. And we need the support and influence of the private sector to make this happen.”
Japan offers at least six months of fully paid leave for fathers, the most generous provision across the countries included in the report. However, only one in 20 took up this benefit in 2017. The Republic of Korea, on the other hand, saw only one in six fathers take fully paid parental leave.
Data from across 29 OECD and EU countries showed that parents of young children in the UK are most likely to cite cost as the reason why they do not use formal childcare arrangements. In Czechia, Denmark and Sweden, however, cost was an issue for less than one in 100 parents.
Liam Sollis, head of policy and advocacy at Unicef UK, added: “Unicef’s research highlights that UK working parents and caregivers still face major challenges balancing work and their caregiving responsibilities.
“While the UK government is taking steps to review and raise awareness of family-friendly policies, take-up of shared parental leave, particularly [among] fathers, remains unacceptably low, and governments and businesses need to do more to tackle the financial, cultural and administration obstacles that many families face.”