SMP inadequate to let new mums stay off work for six months

Women are being forced to return to work before their six months’ maternity period has finished because they cannot afford to take their full statutory leave, research shows.

A national survey by shopworkers union Usdaw revealed that 78% of new mothers would have liked more time off with their new babies, but went back to work on average six weeks before their statutory maternity pay (SMP) ran out.

The survey found that two-thirds of those returning to work early did so because they just could not afford to stay at home and the union found the average cost of taking 12 months off was £7,000.

Usdaw general secretary, John Hannett, said: “That is a huge sum of money for our members to lose. This sum is what most families actually spend paying their household bills every year. Many low-paid workers will take years to recover from this is the kind of financial blow.”

New dads face a similar economic dilemma. Every father surveyed wanted more paid paternity leave, but said they simply could not afford to take extra unpaid leave to spend time with their newborn child.

In response to these figures, Usdaw have launched a national Supporting Parents and Carers campaign that puts improving parents’ rights at the heart of its negotiating strategy with employers and government.

“This is a first for any major British union and all our officers now have to put improved rights for parents and carers on the negotiating table. We are not paying lip-service to this issue, we are taking action,” Hannett said.

Throughout the year Usdaw will also focus on fathers’ rights to increased paid paternity leave and improving provisions for working adults who care for a sick or elderly person.

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