Writing on the Left Foot Forward website, Kate Bell, head of policy at Gingerbread, complains that I got my facts wrong on maternity rights. As a pressure group campaigner, it is understandable that she argues the case for longer maternity leave for women. She proceeds by quoting a selection of statistics on women’s employment, and asserts that these prove that maternity leave rights have changed women’s behaviour, encouraging more mothers to return to the jobs held open for them by their employer.
This is what everyone wants to believe, including the Department for Work and Pensions that commissions and usually publishes the relevant policy evaluation surveys, and writes the related press summaries reporting a dramatic increase in the rates of mothers returning to work.
A closer look at the results and other relevant studies, however, reveals a more complicated picture. As I’ve argued in Key Issues in Women’s Work, mothers’ rate of return to work has been inflated by a series of fact…