“Our leave policy hangs around a very long maternity leave period, which is based on the fact that for the first year of life the appropriate carer should be the mother rather than accepting that it could be shared,” said Professor Moss.
“It goes back to the 1970s where for reasons that are obscure we took up long maternity leave. The normal pattern of other countries is to go for short, well-paid where we have gone for long but patchily paid.”
It found UK parental leave was also among the weakest, amounting to four unpaid months per parent but only usable at the rate of four weeks per year.
In Sweden, parents can choose whether to take their leave in one block or divided into several shorter blocks.
Germany, Iceland, Norway and Sweden have a single period of post-natal leave that does not distinguish between the three different kinds of leave, maternity, paternity and parental leave.
The researchers said the UK had “shared parental leave” but it was not a “right” for the father of the child as it was up the woman whether to transfer the leave to their partners. Few father took up the maternity leave because of the low flat rate pay if they did opt for it.
“To add to this disappointing picture, there is a gap of nearly three years between the end of well paid (maternity) leave and the beginning of an entitlement to early childhood services, when children are three years old,” said Prof Moss.