Call for doubling of SMP rate

Maternity Action and Unison are calling for the statutory maternity pay rate to be doubled to bring it in line with the minimum wage as a survey shows new mums are skipping meals to make ends meet.

Statutory Maternity Pay


The government should increase the rate of statutory maternity pay (SMP) to £364.70 a week so new mothers are not forced back to work too early, according to UNISON and Maternity Action.

Both organisations are concerned some women are cutting short their maternity leave, skipping meals and making other difficult choices because they cannot afford to live on the current statutory weekly amount of £172.48.

UNISON and Maternity Action are urging ministers to more than double the payment at the very least so women receive the equivalent of the national minimum wage of £10.42 an hour.

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 measures new mothers are resorting to, 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.

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.

UNISON and Maternity Action say the findings show the health consequences of not eating properly. For example, one woman said she was prescribed medication after becoming anaemic through skipping meals. Maternity Action says stress during pregnancy puts women at increased risk of post-natal depression and other mental health conditions.

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.

Financial pressures forced more than half (58%) of new mothers to return to work before they were ready. Some had cut their leave to as little as six months because of money worries.

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.

UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea 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.”

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