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Mums and pregnant women on maternity leave ‘in dire financial straits’

Mums and pregnant women on maternity leave ‘in dire financial straits’
Matt Browning
Written By:
Matt Browning

Three-quarters of women who are pregnant or on maternity leave worry a lot about their financial situation, a study finds.

A quarter (25%) worry about money some of the time, while a similar number (23%) struggle a lot to buy the things they need while carrying their baby or while off work.

The lengths many new mums were going to so they could afford to be on maternity pay included cutting down the length of time they had the heating on (69%) and skipping meals or having smaller portions (38%).

Further, many turned to their credit card or lender to borrow money, according to Maternity Action’s Cost of Living Survey. Reliance on credit cards and taking out loans rose from 51% in 2022 to over two-thirds (62%) in 2024.

Feeding their baby was also a problem for many mothers, with the cost of baby formula milk surging since 2022.

The market for baby milk has been scrutinised of late, as the average price of infant formula rose by 25% over two years. This has led to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) launching an investigation into concerns over its pricing.

Expensive milk formula another issue for new mums

It was a concern among many mothers too, as over a tenth said they struggled to pay for it, while 27% had cut down on their personal food budget to afford the formula.

This year, Sainsbury’s, Aldi and Iceland (the cheapest on the market) have made cuts to their prices after the issue came under the spotlight.

As well as battling with the costs of feeding their baby, a persistent issue is the rate of maternity pay offered to working mums.

Since April, maternity and parental pay is £184.03 per week compared to earnings of £400.40 at the National Minimum Wage (for 35 hours at the adult rate per hour) and £677 average weekly earnings.

Money worries had affected a rising number of women’s health and wellbeing while they were pregnant or on maternity leave too. This rose from 56% in 2022 to 65% in 2024.

In February, Unison and Maternity Action called for the rate of pay for maternity leave to double to £364.70 per week so mums are not forced back to work too early.

Meanwhile, the picture for self-employed mums can often be much harder, as you cannot qualify for maternity pay if you are a sole trader, but you might if you have your own limited company.

If you are self-employed, you may be eligible for Maternity Allowance from your employer instead.

‘Situation got worse for new mothers’

In the findings of the study, Maternity Action noted the “situation has once again worsened for new mothers”, despite a slight easing of the cost-of-living crisis.

It wrote: “Maternity payments in the UK are low when compared to other similar countries. The current limited eligibility criteria mean that women, through no fault of their own, can find that an unexpected event, such as an unplanned pregnancy, change or loss of job or period of sick leave, means that they are no longer entitled to receive even the low-level maternity payments they were expecting.

“This is leaving women in dire financial straits to the detriment of their health and wellbeing and family relationships, often forcing them to return to work well before they feel ready to leave their new baby.”

It added: “The Government needs to act now to alleviate the devastating impact on women’s health, wellbeing, family relationships and workplace gender equality that low maternity payments and maternity discrimination are having.”