Review UK Maternity and Paternity Leave Entitlement for Parents of Premature Babies
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We had our beautiful son Logan unexpectedly 7 weeks early at the end of August 2018. He was due 13 October 2018. I was only 33 weeks pregnant when I had him. My pregnancy was completely uneventful up to that point and we had absolutely no indication Logan would be born premature. In fact, being my first child, everyone had convinced me he would be late. I was in complete shock/panic when my waters broke.
Logan was taken to the intensive care unit at Aberdeen’s Neo Natal Unit straight after his birth. This is where he stayed for the first few weeks of his life. We were originally told that we could be in hospital right up to his due date. Luckily for us, Logan was a great size for being so early and with the help of all the amazing staff at Aberdeen’s Neo Natal Unit (who we can’t praise enough) and his parents of course we managed to get him out after only two weeks. My husband stayed with us the entire time we were in hospital. I have no doubt in my mind that had my husband not been there providing constant support, Logan would have been in hospital for much longer.
After Logan’s early arrival, we found ourselves catapulted into an unplanned and extremely stressful situation - life in a Neo Natal Unit. Our beautiful baby boy was in an incubator hooked up to machines and tubes. We spent all day, every day helping to care for him. It was an absolutely heart wrenching situation to find ourselves in but like all the other parents we just got on with it.
Like most other mums my maternity leave started the day after I had Logan. My husband, like most other partners, was put in the heart wrenching position of having to decide whether to start his paternity leave clock ticking, use annual leave, ask for unpaid or compassionate leave or go back to work rather than stay in hospital supporting/caring for the mother/baby/other children.
Currently the statutory position for paternity leave is that partners are only entitled to two weeks patentity leave (which has to be taken at once which is another issue i.e. you can’t split it) and get paid Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) which is currently £145.18 or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower). Leave cannot start before the birth. It must end within 56 days of the birth. For a lot of premature births, that means using the leave before their babies are even home.
SMP for the mother is paid for up to 39 weeks. You get:
(1) 90% of your average weekly earnings (before tax) for the first 6 weeks - which wouldn’t even take us up to Logan’s due date; then
(2) £145.18 or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for the next 33 weeks.
Although it’s great the UK have recently introduced paternity leave and shared parental leave, I personally know a lot of people just use holidays due to the drop in wages. This is definitely an area that, regardless of this issue, could be reviewed and improved upon i.e the length of leave and level of pay for both mothers and partners.
Before I had Logan, I was completely naive to this situation and the impact it can have on the families affected. Nobody plans on having their babies in the Neo Natal Unit and I can tell you it’s stressful enough on families without having the additional worry about wages and the pressure put on partners to go back to work.
We were lucky and got Logan out after two weeks but some families are not as fortunate. I know some families who have spent three months in the Neo Natal. I think the government should assess how this situation impacts parents. Personally, I believe any time spent for either parent in a Neo Natal Unit with premature babies should be paid and it should not impact either parent’s entitlement to leave i.e. the mother should still have her full entitlement when she gets home as should the partner.
Although this petition is aimed at parents of premature babies, the same issues apply to parents of sick babies who also find themselves in the same situation.
Our situation was by absolutely no means the worst - we have an absolutely beautiful, happy, healthy baby boy - but my heart went out to all the other families facing much worse situations than ours. The purpose of this petition is to try to help raise awareness of this issue and hopefully bring about a change to better support families finding themselves in this situation in the future.
Although the relevant legal powers are currently reserved to Westminster, I’d like this issue to be raised with and discussed in Holyrood and subsequently a recommendation put to Westminster.
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