We must increase statutory maternity pay to help new mums reliant on food banks and loans amid cost-of-living crisis
“Maternity pay is not enough to survive. I went without meals, I was turning lights off and the heating to my baby’s room.”
Those are the words of a new mum, Jess, whose income plummeted by two-thirds on state maternity pay.
Sadly, her struggles mirror the majority of women on maternity leave. A recent Maternity Action survey found that 96 per cent of women worried about money during maternity leave, while over half (51 per cent) said they relied on credit cards or loans to get by.
It’s little wonder they are struggling when you consider the pitiful rate of basic state maternity pay. Mothers are being asked to survive on less than half the National Living Wage at a time when their costs are hugely increased, and the cost of living is skyrocketing.
It’s a perfect storm of deprivation for new mums
These are women who have often worked their whole adult lives. But at the time when they most need support, we’ve heard from many who are forced to use food banks or take on huge loans just to make ends meet.
It has a huge impact on the health of mothers and their babies. Many are going back into the workplace long before they are physically or emotionally ready.
Our survey found that over half (52 per cent) felt forced to return to work early because of money worries. One woman told us she went back three weeks after a C-section because she couldn’t afford to stay home any longer.
Financial worries are also taking their toll on the mental health of new mothers. As many as 56 per cent of respondents to our survey said money worries negatively impacted their health and wellbeing during maternity leave.
One woman told us, “We get essentials from a foodbank…often we’ll just eat toast for tea. I’m still breastfeeding, and not giving myself the time or nutrients I need. Emotionally, the stress that comes from all this is extremely draining.”
The perinatal period is critically important for the health and wellbeing of mothers and babies, but many are facing intolerable hardship at a time when they should be recovering from pregnancy and birth.
On top of this, we’re seeing a sharp increase in women forced out of work because of maternity discrimination, meaning they may not even have jobs to return to.
It’s a perfect storm of deprivation for new mums and their families.
That’s why Maternity Action is calling for the government to increase state maternity pay to at least reflect the National Living Wage.
From April, the basic rate of Statutory Maternity Pay and Maternity Allowance will be £156.66 per week - equating to just 47 per cent of the National Living Wage (for a 35-hour week at the adult rate of £9.50 per hour).
As well as an increase in maternity pay, we are also asking for the Universal Credit uplift of £20 a week to be reinstated and for a 7 per cent increase in benefits to match inflation and help the poorest families.
These measures will help guard against the worst effects of the cost-of-living crisis on mothers and their babies.
But to do so will require a recognition on the part of politicians across the board that, as things stand, the UK is getting its next generation very much on the cheap.
Ros Bragg is the director of Maternity Action.
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