“Unless motherhood becomes a financial death sentence, don’t expect birth rates to rise.”
As you know, the worst aspects of the cost of living crisis are felt by those in the most vulnerable situations. People, for example, are already in precarious jobs or in precarious housing situations, and are exposed to sudden cuts in their earnings or rising rents. One such group is women living on low levels of maternity pay.
A new report published by the charity Maternity Action has highlighted the impact of food, heating, housing and fuel on new mothers. The results are stark. Half of the women surveyed reported that they buy less healthy foods than they ate before giving birth, due to lack of money. A quarter said they skipped meals to ensure their children got enough to eat.
All of the women who shared their experiences took maternity leave sometime between January 2021 and December 2022. While maternity leave policies vary from company to company — and, of course, some offer higher packages than the minimum required by law — legally speaking, new mothers are expected To live on very little at the same time as their family expenses rise.
After giving birth, you are entitled to six weeks of 90% of your full salary, followed by 33 weeks of £172.48 per week, or 90% of your average weekly earnings, (whichever is lower). This is an increase of 156.66 per week which was introduced before 2023. Of course, even those who are given more aggressive packages often find the amount on offer extremely difficult to extend.
The report also found the following:
● 71% feel “a lot” about money during pregnancy or maternity leave, an increase from 64% in a similar 2022 survey.
● 60% of respondents relied on a credit card or borrowed money to make ends meet, up from 51% in 2022.
● 58% of them returned to work before fully recovering from childbirth, due to financial pressures.
Talking to Do, “I don’t find it surprising at all that new mothers struggle terribly financially,” said Claire Sell, financial coach and creator of the @myfrugalyear Instagram account. This reflects what I hear from my community and my own experience as well. Statutory maternity pay is not enough to keep family finances in balance, and childcare is increasingly unaffordable.
“Right now, the financial logistics of returning to work are daunting for most families – many nurseries require administration fees, a deposit and an upfront payment, creating a huge down payment while families are still on low incomes.”
“Increases in the price of formula, food for breastfeeding mothers, as well as almost all other household bills, will collide with lower incomes and all the other costs that come with having a child, leaving even the financially intelligent or independent.” Mothers depend on credit and face all the stigma and shame associated with it.
“Whatever your experience with new motherhood, financial pressures have the power to make difficult times more difficult, or take the shine off a wonderful period of your life, forcing you to wish away the months you wish you could have cherished. It can make you feel trapped and isolated if you You can’t afford the baby showers and coffees that are often part of a fun and social maternity leave, and you’re worsening your physical and mental health as long periods of loneliness have been shown to do.
“There has been some consternation in the press about falling birth rates, but until motherhood becomes a financial death sentence, I don’t expect birth rates to rise again. Mothers need more support in many different ways, but a very good start would be more money. And there is The legal remuneration for parents urgently needs to be reviewed, and comprehensive and means-tested support packages must be scaled up.
“My financial anxiety is so bad that I’ve had to increase the amount of medication I take.”
Do I spoke with a woman who participated in the survey. Katie, 41, is a senior teaching assistant living in Derbyshire. She became pregnant in 2021 after artificial insemination, in order to grow her family with her partner, who had a child from a previous relationship. Before and during the pandemic, they were sitting on a comfortable level of savings.
But things changed when the cost of living crisis collided with low levels of maternity pay. “My daughter is my first child and will be my last, so my partner and I wanted me to spend the full 12 months at home with her. I received 90% of my wages during the first six weeks of maternity leave. Then, for up to 18 weeks, I was entitled to half my wages “And when that was over, it became legal, for up to nine months. In the last three months there was nothing.”
If the cost of living had not skyrocketed as it did, Katie says her unit would have been able to “hold on.”
“But between gas prices, car insurance, heating, food, diapers, formula, all going up, even though we had cash on one side, it wasn’t enough.” Unpredictability — not being sure how much prices for staples like pasta and beans will rise from week to week, for example — adds to uncertainty, she says.
She now works two days a week. She would like to spend more days earning, but daycare rates are so high that if she pulled 40 hours a week, her entire take-home pay would go toward childcare. In health terms, the ongoing ramifications of the collision between poor provision of care for new parents and high costs of living are enormous.
Katie spent years taking a low dose of anxiety medication, but fears about having enough to support her family meant she struggled to overdo it. That’s partly because other techniques she knows will help her — things like swimming and eating healthy — are now out of her budget.
‘Pool price is £5 per session. My happy place is in the water, but I don’t have the money for that. And yes, I can go for a walk and things like that – and I do – but it’s the swimming that gives me this complete distraction. “I have to rely on medications to help me with my anxiety because I can’t afford to do the other things I would do that would take me away from it.” Holidays, excursions and ice cream in the park have been cancelled.
Daily stress means: “Constantly brain fog, feeling distracted, and not being able to give as much to my work because I’m so tired.”
She realizes that her weight has increased because money affects the quality of food she and her partner can buy. “A 67p pizza is cheaper than making spaghetti bolognese from scratch.” I’m wheat and lactose intolerant – but I’ll eat that pizza, regardless of the effect on my body, because I’m hungry and it’s what I can handle. A loaf of wheat-free bread is £2.50, or I could buy a regular loaf, which, yes, would make me feel bad, but it’s 80p.
The food that keeps her child healthy also has a negative impact. “My daughter is also lactose intolerant and has to eat a plant-based milk substitute otherwise she has terrible bowel problems. But that’s £2 a carton versus 90p for a pint of cow’s milk.”
For Katie, the buildup of stress is a daily problem. “Budgeting, constantly thinking about money, and being a new mom is stressful,” she says. “A mental disorder affects you emotionally and physically.
Her final thoughts on what stress means for struggling new parents? “It keeps you from sleeping, from having fun and getting going, because you always have thoughts (about getting to the end of the month) in the back of your mind.”