New Mums Like Me Are Being Forced Back To Work

New Mums Like Me Are Being Forced Back To Work

New Mums Like Me Are Being Forced Back To Work

Bethany Power


My husband and I are first time parents to our baby boy. It took us two-and-a-half years to conceive our first child, so when I was pregnant we had every vision and dream for my maternity leave. I knew as soon as the Government announced the lockdown because of Covid-19 that instead of the joyful time we had planned to spend with our new baby there was a long and lonely road ahead for us. However, a quick straw poll of other new mums I'd met at my NCT antenatal group indicated I was far from alone in how I was feeling.

In the UK, Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) ends at 39 weeks. This is the small amount we get paid by our employers every week to support us. They can claim this amount back from the Government via HMRC. Yet despite the Covid-19 crisis having stopped us from fulfilling our leave - with all the midwife checks, healthcare visits, mental health support and so-on that it usually contains - we stand to be forced back to work before it is safe.

To help develop my baby, I saved money for baby sensory classes and swimming lessons, but these have all been cancelled. We've been unable to socialise our babies with others too, and I am concerned this could slow my child's development. There is a higher risk of postnatal depression to mums as well, as we struggle with all this in isolation.

Covid-19 has also made it almost impossible to find childcare for when I do have to go back to work. At the moment, nurseries can’t fully equip for infant childcare safely while the pandemic continues. Restrictive measures also mean we can’t tour a nursery or do an introduction day for our babies. If we're lucky enough to get a place, we have to drop them straight at the door and leave them.

My SMP ends in August. Like me, many mums are still recovering from traumatic labours that leave us in constant pain, not to mention dealing with babies with bad colic, reflux or undiagnosed disabilities or conditions that we've been unable to have confirmed.

I knew this would be the case back in March, which is why I started a petition to ask the Government to extend SMP by three months. Very quickly, I found out that other mothers and fathers were just as terrified as I was by the prospect of not getting that crucial maternity support for a little longer. I collaborated with the creator of a second petition on Parliament.UK, and together, we generated more than 225,000 signatures in a matter of weeks. This was enough to force a response from the Government.

We were disheartened when we received a reply that appeared to disregard our plight entirely. The Government boasted that the UK's Maternity Leave offer is already amongst “the most generous in the world”, with up to 52 weeks available, and 39 weeks paid. “We currently have no plans to extend it,” it concluded. In actual fact, the rate for Maternity Pay in the UK is rather poor compared to many developed countries – have a look at this OECD league table to see just how far we are behind the rest of Europe.

The Government also suggested that it was possible for employers to offer to furlough staff on maternity leave during the extra three months. However, leaving this crucial financial support to the whim of most employers simply isn't feasible – and won't be possible for many now lockdown is easing and more workplaces are opening. In any case, what we're asking for is significantly lower than the cost of furloughing someone for three months. We want three months of additional SMP at £151.20 per week, or 90 per cent of your average weekly earnings, whichever figure is lower. That's just £1965.60 per person.

As such, we do not accept the Government's response, and the petition is still open and going strong. We want more time for parents and their babies to get the healthcare they need, find adequate childcare, and ultimately, be able to go back to work knowing their families are safe. It makes sense, it costs less, and the solution exists. We just need Boris Johnson and co to care enough about us to implement it.


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