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Calls for maternity pay to be doubled

Calls for maternity pay to be doubled
Emma Lunn
Written By:
Emma Lunn

Campaigners have called for maternity pay to be doubled ‘so mothers can afford to eat and heat their homes’.

The plea comes from Unison and Maternity Action, who say that women cannot afford to live on the current weekly rate of £172.48.

The two organisations are demanding the Government increases statutory maternity pay to £364.70 per week so new mothers are not forced back to work too early.

A recent survey by Maternity Action on behalf of Unison shows a quarter of women on maternity leave say they have gone without eating – sometimes all day – so they can afford to feed their families.

Eating their children’s leftovers, brushing their own teeth to suppress hunger pangs, surviving on toast some days, and relying on friends and family for food parcels are among the desperate measures to which new mothers are resorting, according to the survey.

The findings, released to coincide with Unison’s annual women’s conference in Brighton this week, also show financial pressures are forcing new mothers to return to work sooner than they intended.

Living costs ‘hitting new mums particularly hard’

The survey, based on the responses of 1,400 mothers in the UK who had taken maternity leave, shows nearly half (49%) of the women said they were buying less-healthy food to save money. More than a third (35%) were skipping meals or having smaller portions.

One in 20 (5%) said they had occasionally not eaten all day to reduce spending on food as they were so concerned about rising living costs. One woman told researchers she was prescribed medication after becoming anaemic through skipping meals.

Results from the survey show more than seven in 10 (71%) women said they worried ‘a lot’ about money during their pregnancy or maternity leave.

To save money, women responding to the survey said they had reduced the hours their heating was on – 70% had turned down their thermostat and 55% the heating in some rooms. Women said this led to problems with damp, mould and resulting health problems such as respiratory issues. They also worried about keeping their new babies warm enough.

Christina McAnea, Unison general secretary, said: “Everyone is feeling the impact of escalating living costs. But it’s hitting new mums particularly hard.

“No mother should have to go without food or skip meals. But the failure of maternity pay to keep up with increasing living costs is driving many pregnant workers and new mothers into severe financial hardship.

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

Ros Bragg, Maternity Action director, said: “Mothers shouldn’t be forced to cut short their maternity leave because they can’t make ends meet. This is an important time for women to recover from the birth and bond with their baby.

“Women should be reducing their stress levels during pregnancy and their child’s first year, not worrying about how to pay for essentials. Stress during pregnancy puts women at increased risk of post-natal depression and other mental health conditions.

“The Government should be supporting pregnant women and new mothers to live healthy lives, not leaving them struggling to keep their house warm and eat a balanced diet.”