UK one of 'least family friendly' countries in Europe

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The UK is one of the worst places in Europe for paid parental leave and affordable quality childcare, the UN's children's charity has said.

Researchers for Unicef ranked 31 countries on their length of maternity and paternity leave and the proportions of pre-school children above and below the age of three in childcare.

The only European countries below the UK were Cyprus, Greece and Switzerland.

UK parents were among the most likely to blame cost for not using childcare.

Unicef policy and advocacy head Liam Sollis said the research highlighted how working parents in the UK faced major challenges balancing work and their care-giving responsibilities.

Sweden, Norway and Iceland were the highest ranked countries.

Unicef said family-friendly policies strengthened the bond between parents and their children, which was key to the development of families and society.

And it said new parents should be offered six months' paid leave and affordable quality childcare.

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The UK offers eligible new mothers:

  • six weeks at 90% of their average weekly earnings
  • 33 weeks at £149 per week or 90% of their average weekly earnings (if lower)
  • a further 13 weeks unpaid

It also offers two weeks' statutory paternity leave at £149 a week.

Sweden and Norway, at the top of the league for family friendliness overall, pay new mothers the equivalent of 35 and 45 weeks fully paid, while Estonia offers 85 weeks.

Comparisons on childcare reveal the majority of pre-school children aged three and older attend education and care centres across the 31 European countries for which comparable statistics are available.

This ranges from 51% in Croatia to 99% in Belgium and Iceland. In the UK, the take-up rate is 73%.

In every country, children under the age of three are much less likely to attend such centres than their older peers.

Fewer than one in 10 children under the age of three do so in the Czech Republic, Greece, Poland and Slovakia.

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