Make Statutory Maternity Pay equal for self-employed new mums

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GPDQ,  the UK’s first doctor-on-demand app that delivers a GP to a patient’s home has launched a campaign for fairer statutory maternity pay for self-employed mothers, after witnessing first-hand the ‘silent suffering’ that exists behind closed doors during the first six weeks of becoming a mum who runs a business.

In the UK, self-employed women receive less statutory maternity pay than their employed equivalents. They receive the same government (state) maternity allowance as people who are employed by a company, however, they do not receive the first 6 weeks of 90% of their annual weekly salary, as employed people do.

The impact of this lack of income during such a crucial time sets self-employed new mums up to fail, with many admitting to considering closing their business or being too embarrassed to ask for help for fear of admitting defeat. Too many are suffering in silence as they try to work through the issues.

This situation is also a deterrent to starting a business, for females of child-bearing age – In 2015, 126,000 businesses were created by women – down from the 139,000 in 2013.

Campaign for equality in maternity pay

The ‘Six Week Support’ campaign will lobby government for the equivalent financial support that an employed new mum receives, for self-employed mums during the first six weeks after having a baby. This financial support will make it more possible for mums to take time out of the business, to enjoy their new child, if only for a short time, before returning to full-time work.

The Facts 

Our own study of 104 self-employed mums reveals that over half (59%) have suffered from anxiety, general stress or depression caused by the amount of responsibility associated with running a business and having a newborn. When asked how equality in maternity pay would have helped, 91 percent said they would have used the income to draft in extra support.

Becoming a mum has forced more than a third of new mums to throw the towel in completely (35%) and almost half (43%) considered ceasing trading due to the struggles of running a business and becoming a new mum, but against all odds, they kept going. Out of those who ceased trading, 10 percent went into employment and 20 percent are currently unemployed.

When the GP-led study asked self-employed new mums what negative side effects they had experienced because of being forced to work immediately after having a baby, the top five reasons were:

1.       General stress (67%)

2.       Inability to relax and enjoy my baby (59%)

3.       Lack of sleep, through worrying about the business (57%)

4.       Anxiety (55%)

5.       Loss of confidence in social or business situations (43%)

Dr Kristy Lau, NHS locum GP and one of the founding GPs behind the doctor-on-demand-app GPDQ explains why the campaign can make a difference:

“In the UK, self-employed women continue to receive 90 percent less maternity pay in the first six weeks than their employed equivalents, an injustice that is taking its toll on the health of the mother and her ability to bond with her new child, as 45 percent have no choice but to continue to work as soon as the day after giving birth.

“When a new mum takes her newborn to the GP for its routine checks, there is no way a GP can see what’s happening day-to-day for that mum – it’s only because we see them at home, that we have been able to see how big this problem is – and we think that what we have seen is the tip of the iceberg.

“With everything health-related, prevention is always better than cure – if new self-employed mums can get maternity pay equal to their employed equivalents it’s at least one way they can get the support they need to enjoy motherhood, and avoid potentially life-threatening issues.”

Siobhan Merrifield of the Association for Post-Natal Illness (APNI) supports the ‘Six Week Support’ Campaign:

“Self-employed mums have a lot on their plate, which can induce mental health issues that wouldn’t have arisen if they were able to take time out, or, if like their employed equivalents, could take a reasonable amount of time out to bond with the new baby.  These figures should urge government to consider equality in maternity pay, to enable self-employed new mums to draft in the support they need and deserve.”

Anne Suosilta, Volunteer Manager for the Pandas Foundation, which is responsible for providing for pre, and post-natal depression advice and support to mums supports the ‘Six Week Support’ Campaign:

“This is a powerful campaign as the people behind it are the GPs who have first-hand experience of the struggle of mental illness behind closed doors. No one should feel alone, but the reality is that some self-employed mums can feel isolated without a team based support network.

“The first six weeks after birth is a crucial time for mum's mental health and PANDAS foundation are here to support. It is paramount that any additional pressures such as financial are removed - equality in maternity pay would absolutely help lighten the load.”

The study also revealed that even the idea of having a baby made 63 percent of self-employed mums fear for the future, and 67 percent admitted to underestimating the effect a newborn baby would have on their business. These concerns are evident in female start-up figures - In 2015, 126,000 businesses were created by women – down from the 139,000 in 2013.

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