Statutory Maternity Pay Debate.

So this is a topic where I’m really on the fence and I can and will argue both sides so read the whole thing before getting mad and then feel free to leave comments because I would like to know others opinions on this one.

The current statutory maternity pay in the UK is £138.18 per week. That is £552.72 per month. If you have been working for at least 26 weeks then you are entitled to this pay. If you are not working, in some cases you can still get this but it depends on individual circumstances. If you are not eligible for SMP you can claim maternity allowance which I cannot get an exact figure for because you have to claim to see what you’re entitled to but my research has indicated anything from £27-£90 per week. If you are unemployed or have a low paid job you basically get paid to have kids and this is where we get people believing they are ‘Full time mothers’ because parenting is what they get paid for! From that angle I think SMP is wrong, we should be encouraging people, especially young girls, to get well paid jobs and settle in a relationship so that there are two incomes before deciding to get pregnant. I don’t think you should really get paid more to have kids than you would to work. That is just SMP, not to mention any other benefits or child tax etc. Young girls leaving school with not a lot of money or grades to go onto higher education could look at the pay and quite fairly think, “I’m better off getting pregnant and being single.” Because unless you land a pretty secure job, in a lot of cases that is true! I don’t think that is something we should be encouraging and ok, it isn’t actively encouraged but it is available and therefore pushes some people towards having a family when they are very young.

Ok, don’t hate me yet. Here is the reverse side to the argument and why I sit on the fence. There are some young women (or older), in loving relationships that find themselves pregnant and are very happy with the situation. Then the dad leaves or maybe not even that severe, the dad might lose his job, the woman (and man) want their baby and are happy but cannot afford to raise a child alone and the mother can’t work and look after a newborn baby. There are people out there that don’t actually want a big career and massive salary, some people are happy having a family and not having luxuries in life like posh cars and expensive holidays. In that situation, yes SMP is a good thing because they haven’t got pregnant to cheat the system and they will make excellent parents but they need a bit of support.

There are some young women that genuinely want to be a young mom, they’d prefer to have kids young while they’re fit and active and focus on their career or travelling or whatever when they’re middle aged. That does make sense in many ways but somebody in their early twenties will never have the career and salary that matches somebody getting on for thirty. So if they want to make that life choice to be a happy healthy young mom, is it fair that they get help in the form of SMP and benefits?

The word that annoys me is ‘entitled’. What makes us entitled to get paid to have children? Surely we should be paying in to be entitled to a pay out? So I move onto the career moms. Every company policy is different but no company has to payout for a woman to go on maternity leave. Again, I’m on the fence. On one side, it makes no business sense to pay a salary to someone who doesn’t step foot in the building or do anything for the company while she’s off. It is a woman’s choice to have a baby so why should corporations pay out for our life choice.

Then on the other side… C’MON! I was 18 when I started with my company, I’ve given my entire adult life (up until Ollie) to my career, I worked until I was almost 39 weeks pregnant. Haven’t I given enough to be ‘entitled’ to a pay out? Yeh you’re paying me for essentially nothing but you’re also securing good, loyal employees! There would be incentive for young people to stay and progress with the company. I think the rule should be one months salary for every years full time service and then SMP for up to a year. This would encourage women to progress within a company and stay loyal instead of flipping from job to job. It would also help them plan their family better. Most career moms stay with a company for a good 2-3 years so 12 weeks full pay would be fair. If like me you’ve been committed and loyal 10 months paid isn’t far fetched! It would give me time to recover and come back ready and fully focused and I’d work for the company for another 10 years! There are some things you can’t put a price on and the cost of paying good employees to take sufficient maternity leave is worth the reward of keeping good staff. The cost of hiring, training and firing new staff is far more expensive than a few months salary.

However, some women choose to not return to work, especially if they get pregnant again soon after. So in that case, the company have just basically paid a woman to slowly leave the company. I really am undecided on what the fair answer is. There are so many people that take the piss and keep having kids to keep getting paid but then there are so many genuine hard workers that have given their soul to their company and it would be nice if they could have a decent amount of stress free time off.

The advantage to a company paying for good staff having a decent amount of time off, it will mean that the woman is fully recovered physically and emotionally and less likely to claim sick pay for post natal depression or any physical complications. I had an infection after my c section and I was back to work only a couple of weeks after my recovery time. If anything had gone wrong after my recovery the company would not only had to pay me sick pay but they would’ve had to find a replacement at short notice and probably ended up paying expenses for the replacement so surely it’s better to have planned time off.

When people say to me, “Back to work already?!” I mostly just go with the flow and think I’ve gotta suck it up if I want to keep my salary. The other day somebody was shocked to hear that I’m back and she was saying I need bonding time but I told her it’s ok because I work 24 hours over Fri- Sat so I see him pretty much all week. Then she made a very good point and said even if I am getting time with him, my body needs time to rest and recover. She didn’t know about my dramas after the birth. She did make me think maybe I should’ve taken more time off but then I feel like I didn’t had a fair choice when the maternity pay is such a big drop in pay. So on one side we could say, if I choose to come back then I suffer the consequences of potentially being ill again if my body hasn’t fully recovered. It is not up to the company to pay me out if I rush coming back. Then on the other side, am I really choosing to come back or am I left with no choice because I’d have to take a massive pay cut? A lot of people would say money doesn’t matter, the baby is more important. That is a lovely notion and obviously Ollie is more important to me than money. However, in this situation it is important for me to give Ollie stability and security and unfortunately having money to pay the mortgage will give me that! It’s a long term choice, it’s not just about now. I can either be mortgage free with a teenage boy or potentially be remortgaging putting stress on family life.

Oh but there is this little rule tied into the SMP policy that you get 90% of your salary for six weeks then SMP. Really that rule assumes that you work up until your due date because six weeks is the recommended recovery time and some companies insist on six weeks compulsory leave. (If it’s compulsory surely it should be full pay?) Is that a joke that some women might be forced back to work after six weeks to keep paying their rent/mortgage or is it tough, you chose to have a baby – you get SMP for a year so what are you moaning about?

Looking at people I know, I think it’s fair to say average monthly household bills including rent or mortgage are upwards of £1000, give or take depending on the size of your house. I’m not including baby costs in this as that is most likely what SMP will be partially spent on. So for a working woman to comfortably go on leave she needs to be confident that her partner can cover the majority of the household costs. For many women that is the case and they’re lucky enough to be able to take time off but if your partner is hourly paid or self employed and not on a consistent income, there is a lot of pressure to keep the household running and not just resort to benefits and try and get a council house. Not just for the mother but on the father as well. This is where we have people turning to payday loans and getting into debt. So if SMP matched our working wage, would we see a decrease in debt?

In summary, I can understand all sides. I’m business minded and it doesn’t make corporate sense to pay for mothers to take time off but then my strength is in HR and I believe in people and think loyal, good staff should be rewarded and looked after. Everyone on benefits isn’t a channel 5 ‘Benefits Britain’ con artist, they’re are some hard workers that just deserve a bit of help. Then on the other side there are some con artists out there that do cheat the system so stopping benefits would stop these people. I think this is a great topic for discussion and I’d love to hear other people’s stories. Please feel free to comment but please don’t take offence from anything I’ve written. The underlying point is, I understand all arguments. The only thing I will say is, I don’t think you should be better off on benefits than you are in work.

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  • Aine

    The one good thing about maternity allowance (when it comes to people scrounging benefits) is that you are only entitled if you have worked at least 3 months during your pregnancy, and that you have proof that you earned a minimum of £30 a week. Im not entitled to SMP as i was made redundant just short of the qualifying week (25 weeks), so i will be applying for Maternity Allowance. Luckily most people qualify for maternity allowance which amounts to the same as SMP £138 per week.

    The only other opinion of mine, is i think 39 weeks of SMP is perfectly acceptable, the main reason being is that SMP is actually paid by hmrc its not paid by the employers. I do think it should be bumped up to 52 weeks, which is the time you are allowed off anyway.

    • That’s why I think it’s not unreasonable for companies to provide maternity packages because HMRC will pay the first chunk! So they could easily top it up and the cost would be worth the reward of having good, loyal employees!

      • Aine

        Exactly! I also think (which a lot of employers have brought in) is childcare vouchers tax free.

        I figured out that if i finish maternity leave, a full time nursery (based on birmingham area prices) will cost me around £195.
        So the question is, do i stay at home, or do i work full time, to spend all my money on childcare.
        I think childcare or parent packages need to be revamped a bit to make it more beneficial to go back to work, rather than breaking even.

  • Aine

    I meant to say £195 a week!

    • i agree! That’s the problem, how can anyone justify going back to work if they earn less after paying for childcare! Hence the generation of ‘full time mothers’!