Govt Urged to Increase Statutory Maternity Pay so Pregnant Mums Don’t Stress About Food or Heating

In response to the cost of living crises faced by pregnant mums in the UK, UNISON and Maternity Action have issued a compelling press release. They urge the government to address the glaring inadequacies in statutory maternity pay. 

The heart of the matter lies in the fact that the current weekly rate of £172.48 is proving insufficient. This compels pregnant mums to make distressing choices – cutting short their maternity leave, skipping meals, and compromising on heating.

Survey on Pregnant Mums

According to a recent survey conducted by Maternity Action on behalf of UNISON, a quarter of women on maternity leave reported going without meals. This occurs sometimes for an entire day to cope with the financial strain. 

The survey, based on responses from 1,394 pregnant mums who took leave between January 2021 and December 2022, sheds light on the grim reality they face. The findings, released in conjunction with UNISON’s annual women’s conference in Brighton, underscore the urgency of doubling statutory maternity pay. 

71% of women expressed significant worries about money during their pregnancy or leave. Financial pressures have forced over half of new mothers to return to work before they were ready, with some reducing their leave for pregnancy to as little as six months due to money concerns.

Moreover, the impact of financial strain goes beyond the necessities. Pregnant mums are making sacrifices in heating, with 70% reducing the hours their heating is on, leading to issues like dampness and mould that can pose health risks, especially for newborns. The consequences are tangible – respiratory issues, concerns about keeping babies warm, and overall well-being.

These challenges are more complicated for black and Asian women who find themselves overrepresented in low-paid jobs with insecure contracts, often without access to statutory benefits like leave for pregnancy and pay. The call for increased maternity pay is not just about equitable financial support but also addresses systemic inequalities that disproportionately affect certain demographics.

Call for Action on the Matter

Currently, women are entitled to six weeks of statutory maternity pay at 90% of their full pay after childbirth, followed by a weekly rate that drops to £172.48 for the next 33 weeks or 90% of their average weekly earnings, whichever is lower.

Starting from April 7, 2024, these rates will increase to £184.03 per week. However, UNISON and Maternity Action argue that these incremental changes are insufficient, advocating for a substantial increase to at least £364.70 per week, aligning with the national minimum wage of £10.42 an hour.

The crux of the matter is that the failure of maternity pay to keep pace with the increasing cost of living crises is placing pregnant mums in dire financial straits. UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea stresses that no mother should have to endure the heart-wrenching choice between providing food for their family and taking necessary time off for leave.

“The government is effectively forcing many women to choose between work and family. They must raise pay for maternity leave to ensure no one is penalised for having a baby,” says McAnea. 

The government, she asserts, must raise leave pay to ensure that no woman is penalised for the simple act of having a baby. In the face of skyrocketing living costs, this becomes not just an economic issue but a matter of basic dignity and support for mothers during a crucial time.

Maternity Action director Ros Bragg echoes these sentiments, emphasising that this is a vital period for women to recover from childbirth and bond with their newborns. However, financial worries are robbing them of this essential time, causing stress that puts them at an increased risk of post-natal depression and other mental health conditions.

Going Forward

The government faces an urgent plea from UNISON and Maternity Action to address statutory maternity pay. Pregnant mums should not have to make impossible choices between providing for their families and taking the necessary time off for maternity leave. 

Doubling statutory pay for maternity leave is not just a financial imperative. It is also a step towards supporting the well-being, dignity, and mental health of pregnant mums during a pivotal period in their lives. The government’s response to this plea will not only shape the lives of individual families. It will also reflect its commitment to fostering a society that values and supports motherhood.

Contact us today if you believe you are facing challenges during your maternity or pregnancy in the workplace. Redmans Solicitors are employment law specialists and could assess your case before advising on your possible next steps.

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