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Why SPL matters for the self-employed

Published: 12 Jun 2018

Olga FitzRoy, founder of the Parental Pay Equality campaign, explains why Shared Parental Leave would be beneficial to self-employed parents.

“I’m a recording engineer & music producer by trade. I started the Parental Pay Equality campaign to change the law to give self-employed people access to Shared Parental Leave (SPL). 

When I got pregnant in early 2015, my husband and I were excited that we could take the SPL that had just come in. We’d heard about how great it was – although having had my son, I’m not sure I’d quite call it ‘share the joy’ (as the government has called its new campaign to raise awareness about SPL) – maybe something like “hold the screaming child so I can have a shower” or “you do monotonous tasks for a few months while I rediscover my brain, identity, clean clothes and shampoo”.   

My work is dependent on client-relationships and my availability, so I couldn’t really picture taking a whole year off.  I had hoped to use SPL, taking some time off at the beginning, and then swapping with my husband if an important job came along, with the option of swapping back afterwards. 

Then we discovered I wasn’t eligible for SPL because I was self-employed, even though I did qualify for Maternity Allowance (MA) which is paid at the same rate. I did my first bit of work when my son was about 3 months old, using some of my Keeping in Touch (KIT) days.  

A month or two later, I got a call to work on a two-week album project for a well-known band.  It would have taken me over my KIT days, but I wasn’t in a position to stop my MA, a) because I was still breastfeeding and didn’t feel I could go back to work full-time and b) because I didn’t have a full-time job to return to (my long-term plans consisted of sitting in coffee shops and soft-play centres with my boobs out, comparing notes with my mum-friends about the four-month sleep-regression). So, with a heavy heart I turned down the job. 

In the end I took eight months off (my husband used a couple of months of SPL – because as an employee he did qualify). It took longer than I thought to get my career back on track. In the second year after my son was born, my earnings were half what they had been before. I needed to start laying groundwork, networking, going to meetings – but I also had to fight a good deal of prejudice. Even loyal clients – some of them feminists who had always championed other women in the workplace – would have hushed conversations with my agent about whether I was able to ‘manage’. 

I hope that my story illustrates how the self-employed could really benefit from the flexibility of SPL. They can’t just take nine months off and expect to walk straight back into the same job, and the ten KIT days that are allowed are a) inadequate, and b) useless if the dad can’t take time off for childcare.  

To find out more about our campaign visit the Parental Pay Equality website.

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Read more about Shared Parental Leave or call the Working Families legal helpline on 0300 012 0312. Helpline opening hours.

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