Why the government should embrace flexible working practices with the same parental rights as employees

We know from previous IPSE research that working mothers choose self-employment due to the freedom, flexibility and control it provides. The onset of the pandemic and shift towards remote working practices has resulted in working mothers benefiting from new and flexible working practices and only added to calls for the government to support working mothers wishing to adopt this working approach in the long-term.

Yet, despite the overwhelmingly positive reasons that working mothers enter self-employment, those operating within self-employment are unable to access the same parental rights as their employee counterparts, namely Statutory Maternity Pay, Shared Parental Leave, Statutory Paternity Pay, Statutory Adoption Pay, Statutory Adoption Leave and the ability to take time off for antenatal care.

self-employed dad working from home with small child

According to IPSE’s recent Self-Employed Landscape report for 2021, there are now a total of 532,661 working mothers opting to operate as solo self-employed in the UK– accounting for 13 per cent of the entire solo self-employed population. Whilst the total number of solo self-employed mothers has decreased by nine per cent since 2020, roughly in line with the overall number of self-employed, the number of working mothers in self-employment has still increased by 40 per cent since 2008.

Similarly, over half of working mothers (52%) now operate in the top three highly skilled occupational categories (SOC1 to SOC3), accounting for 15 per cent of the total freelancer population.

15 per cent of freelancers are working mums

The cost of unequal parental rights for self-employed mothers

Despite self-employment affording working mothers with greater control over working hours, choice of where to work and better work-life balance, the self-employed are not afforded the same choice and flexibility when it comes to parental rights.

Instead, self-employed working mothers are entitled to between £27 and £151.97 for 39 weeks or 90 per cent of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower).

However, we know that the inability to claim more than 10 keeping in touch (KIT) days whilst on this support and the fact that Maternity Allowance (for those who fail to meet the national insurance contribution requirements) only offers £27 per week has resulted in limited access to such support. In fact, previous IPSE research revealed that 30 per cent of eligible self-employed mothers did not claim their Maternity Allowance at all whilst a further 31 per cent returned to work early for career or financial reasons.

Similarly, partners of self-employed mothers are unable to access Shared Parental Leave or Statutory Paternity Pay, which is particularly difficult for those self-employed mothers that do not claim their entitled support or return to work early. Concerningly, we know from previous IPSE research that the inability to claim the same parental rights as an employee has resulted in 17 per cent of men and 8 per cent of women taking no time off after the birth or adoption of their child.

Whilst the UK Government is referring to adoption as a priority amid falling number of adoptions, self-employed parents are unable to claim Statutory Adoption Pay or Statutory Adoption Leave. The inability to claim this support is not only adding another barrier to adoption in the UK, but also denying the self-employed the basic human right to adopt a child and to enjoy the rights associated with that without discrimination.

If the government is serious about supporting those who now operate with flexible working practices in the long-run and also ensure that the adoption system in the UK successfully matches children with adoptive parents, it must extend parental rights to the self-employed.

IPSE offer for new freelance parents

Are you self-employed or going to become self-employed, and do you have a new arrival on the way? If so, we are pleased to announce that all parents who are on maternity, paternity and adoption leave are entitled to receive 60% off the first 6 months of their IPSE membership - including existing members.

To claim your discount, please contact us via [email protected].

Where can IPSE members find support?

Whether you are an experienced contractor or just starting out, your IPSE membership is a gateway to the best guidance, resources, and information to help you make your business a success.

Read more


IPSE fights for what is right for you and your business. We campaign to Government and industry leaders to build a better world so you can grow your business and be happy and healthy in your everyday life.

IPSE Campaign hub


Meet the author

Headshot original.png
Joshua Toovey

Senior Research and Policy Officer