The Timeline: Maternity leave

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Maternity grants, 1911

The National Insurance Act, proposed by the then chancellor, David Lloyd George, came into force in 1911. It included a universal maternal health benefit, putting the issue of maternity rights on the political agenda.

Women go to work, 1941

From 1941, women's conscription into industry prompted debate over their "double burden". By 1943, 1,345 nurseries had been established – compared with the 14 existing in 1940 – to help women to juggle work and childcare. But they were temporary, and the concept of formal maternity leave remained firmly off the agenda.

International issue, 1970

During the 1970s, maternity leave in Britain remained patchy, though the issue assumed international prominence. In 1974 Sweden introduced cross-gender parental leave into law. Meanwhile, in Iraq, many women could expect to receive full pay while on maternity leave while benefiting from an extensive system of state-subsidised nurseries.

Dark days, 1980

In the 1980s maternity leave varied from company to company and was linked to length of service. From 1985, workplace-subsidised nurseries were deemed a taxable benefit, adding £700 to £1,000 to women's tax bills. In 1987, the universal maternity grant was removed. State-paid maternity allowance was restricted. The same year, a training supervisor, Maria Brown, lost a lawsuit against her employer, who had selected her for redundancy because she was pregnant.

European exceptions, 1988

In 1988 a European Commission report demonstrated the extent to which Britain lagged behind its contemporaries in employment law. The only state not to provide full statutory maternity leave, Britain had blocked the adoption of a draft directive setting out minimum standards on parental leave.

New Labour, 1999

Two years after New Labour swept into power, the Employment Relations Act granted all employees a minimum of three months' unpaid parental leave, while mothers were entitled to 18 weeks' paid leave.

Paternity leave, 2001

In 2001, Gordon Brown included men's right to paternity leave in his Budget and, from 2003, male employees received paid statutory paternity leave for the first time. In January 2010, fathers were given the right to take six months statutory paternity leave while their partners returned to work, in effect taking the place of the mother at home.

European advances, 2010

Yesterday, the European Parliament decided that all companies should pay maternity leave at full pay for 20 weeks and paternity leave for two weeks. Currently women receive 90 per cent of their salary for the first six weeks of leave, followed by the statutory rate of £125 per week for the remaining 46.

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