Since Keira Knightley welcomed her daughter Edie into the world last year, she has become “unbelievably aware” of the problems facing working women in the UK.
In a new interview, the actress admitted she is lucky enough to afford “really good childcare.” Otherwise she would have had to take a four-year career break.
Knightley, who married former Klaxons musician James Righton in 2013, said childcare in the UK is “unbelievably expensive” and called for a law change to make paternity leave equal to maternity.
Knightley said: “One of the things that is so shocking in this country is that childcare is unbelievably expensive. It should be, it’s an amazing thing if you’re good at it. It’s incredibly difficult, it should be well paid.
“But there is no option for a woman to go back to work unless she’s being paid really, really well and can afford full-time care before [her child can] get into nursery,” she added.
Knightley said current laws surrounding parental leave in the UK mean women are often left “desperately trying to figure it out.”
“I think paternity leave should be the same as maternity leave. It’s shocking. Because you need that option,” she said.
“And actually, when you’re thinking about an employer looking at a man and a woman thinking, ‘Well, at some point you could take nine months or however long off, and the guy doesn’t have to.’ Don’t tell me that that doesn’t come into it.”
She added: “You need to be a family unit, not just have the guy there for two weeks and then he goes back to work and the mother is left desperately trying to figure it out. I think it’s archaic that there aren’t better options.”
Talking about her experience of motherhood, she said: “I’ve become unbelievably aware of that and how lucky I’ve been to be able to afford really good childcare, because otherwise it would be at least four years out of my career.
“I wouldn’t be able to get back to where I’d been if I’d taken four years out. I think that’s the same for most women. And I think that’s really hard,” she added.
Righton is “incredibly supportive” with Edie, who is now a toddler with the energy of a “ballistic missile,” she said.
Asked about the pressure celebrity mothers face to bounce back into shape immediately after giving birth, Knightley said she had a very different notion of a “post-baby body.”
“I actually went completely the opposite,” she said. “I went, ‘I’m not putting that pressure on myself in any way.’
“So it’s taken me a long time to get back into my jeans. I’m nearly there.”
HOW DO WE STACK UP?
The OECD surveyed childcare costs across 34 member nations earlier this year and claimed costs in New Zealand are among the highest in the developed world. It claimed Kiwi couples spend 28% of their income on childcare. The average across OECD countries was 13% of income.
However the Ministry of Education said the report over-estimated time spent in childcare (which assumed two children in fulltime care for the entire year) and overlooked the first 20 hours of free childcare available to parents of 3-5 year-olds.
Kiwi employees are entitled to 18 weeks government-paid parental leave. The maximum rate is $NZ527.72 a week before tax.
Criteria for further unpaid leave includes extended leave, shared by both, of up to 52 weeks. Up to 10 days special leave is available for medical appointments and ante-natal classes.
The OECD report suggested Australian families pay only 10 per cent of their net incomes on childcare. The government provides a Child Care Benefit to help cover the cost of childcare. It is income-tested so it is not available for people with high incomes.
The current maximum rate of benefit payment for a non school-aged child is $A3.90 per hour, or $A195 per week to cover up to 50 hours of care a week. Payments for school-aged children are 85% of that.
Australia’s paid parental leave scheme also entitles a caregiver to 18 weeks leave at the minimum wage, about $A580 a week before tax. Those who do not meet the requirements for paid maternity leave are entitled to a $A5000 lump sum.