By Claire West

An impact assessment carried out on behalf of the European Parliament has revealed that the cost of extending maternity leave to 20 weeks at full pay in the UK alone will be a staggering £2.5 billion per annum.

However, MEPs will not be able to make a fully informed decision when they come to vote on the proposal in October as the impact assessment only considers the costs and benefits for ten out of the 27 member states.

The total cost of the proposal for those ten member states amounts to an eye watering 121.18 billion over a period of 19 years, of which the UK makes up 47%.

The proposal will feature in the controversial Pregnant Workers Directive.

Commenting, Kieran O'Keeffe, Head of European Affairs at the British Chambers of Commerce, said:

"This directive should be about setting minimum EU standards for the health and safety of pregnant workers - not adding new payroll costs for overburdened companies and national social security systems.

"These figures confirm that the Parliament's proposals are completely unaffordable as governments across the EU seek to deal with budget deficits and the aftermath of recession.

"The Commission's original proposal to extend maternity leave to 18 weeks, but with individual member states allowed to decide the level of pay, is a better, more affordable option."