Tracy Brabin MP: Allow freelancers and the self-employed access to shared parental leave and pay
Ahead of her Ten Minute Rule Bill in the House of Commons, Tracy Brabin writes about extending parental leave to freelancers and the self-employed.
When told I had been granted a 10-minute rule bill I saw an opportunity to bring forward legislation on something that matters.
To campaign hard and guide it through the parliamentary process with the hope of it becoming law.
I was under no illusions that the chance of a humble 10-minute rule bill, usually two are presented each week, on a Tuesday and Wednesday, reaching the statute book was highly unlikely.
That was fine though. Ever the optimist I believed that surely if I found the right issue, legislation would follow.
Today I’m in Parliament, on the scheduled date for my bill’s second reading.
Later, my bill will be read out in a queue of others and deferred to a later date as a formality.
Do you know what’s frustrating about this process? Well, to begin with, I know the provisions in my bill would make a massive difference to so many.
There are 4.8 million self-employed people in the UK and my bill – which has been christened ‘#SelfieLeave’ – would support those who start families.
It’s simple in its objectives, to allow freelancers and the self-employed access to shared parental leave and pay.
Shared Parental Pay is a relatively new employment right. It came into existence in April 2015.
The idea was to allow each parent to take blocks of leave to be with their new born baby, therefore moving away from the expectation that the mother would take primary responsibility in caring for the child.
It also recognised that many mothers felt they had to take extended periods off on maternity leave, which can damage their career and future earning potential.
The legislation is welcome but disappointingly the introduction was limited to those in PAYE jobs and take up has been poor.
On more that one front the self-employed and freelancers can help.
A survey of freelancers has shown that over 70% would take advantage of this policy if offered to them (a dramatic improvement on the 2% currently).
My proposals are cost neutral, it would simply allow mums to share their maternity allowance in blocks with their partner.
Mums receive this allowance anyway; my bill would simply empower her and her partner to do the best for their family.
It would allow mum to get back to work when she wants to or take jobs if and when they come up.
Having been a freelancer with babies I know how important it is to keep your hand in in your industry and how crucial the money can be for your family.
But the current system is too restrictive. Mum is only allowed 10 day ‘keeping in touch’ days or the maternity allowance stops and can’t be restarted. So, mums would have to be brave to take on more than a couple of weeks’ worth of work.
I fully expect that when (again, I’m an optimist) a version of my bill makes it to legislation that it will be popular across the house. Enough of my Labour colleagues, Conservatives, Lib Dems and SNP have given it their support for me to be confident of that. Even the previous Minister when in post gave warm words, although carefully stopping short of full endorsement.
As I sit in the grand old House of Commons this afternoon, waiting for archaic process to almost inevitable delay progression, it’ll be hard not to feel that this is an opportunity lost.
Freelancing, self-employment and the gig-economy are fairly recent phenomenon for many sectors of the economy.
Many progressing in their careers today and beginning to start their families will have never experienced a permanent contract.
For some this is a way of life that they have chosen but for many others this won’t have been their decision, more likely these contracts will be the only ones they’ve been offered.
We need to deliver for the workforce as it exists today – not the way it used to.
Freelancers and self-employed deserve better than to be stuck in a queue waiting for their rights to be delayed.
The campaign carries on.
Tracy Brabin is Labour MP for Batley and Spen