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£1.5 billion of cuts to benefits for pregnant women and babies

From Richard Exell at Touchstone:

Last week’s report on Valuing Families from Maternity Action is so full of important information that picking out just one fact seems unfair.

But it is a shocker: maternity leave is one of those times when workers need to know that the welfare state is going to be there for them. And children under 12 months can really be harmed by their parents’ poverty, with impact on their future health, education and employment prospects.

The £1.5 billion lost to families has to be balanced against the cost of equipment, clothing, nappies and food for a baby in its first year, which Maternity Action notes is, on average, £3,710.

And once maternity leave is over many women have to shift to part-time work – often paid at a lower hourly rate as well as for fewer hours.

This is partly because childcare and other services that would make it easier to stay in full-time paid work are often non-existent or expensive, but it can also be direct discrimination – in 2005, the Equal Opportunities Commission estimated that 440,000 pregnant women experienced some form of disadvantage at work, simply for being pregnant or taking maternity leave and that 30,000 were forced out of their jobs. (Today things are likely to be even worse for women facing discrimination, as taking a case to employment tribunal now costs £1,200 in fees that have to be paid up front.)

Valuing Families is the first report to try to put a figure on the cuts to benefits for pregnant women and parents of children aged up to 12 months. Here’s the cuts included in Maternity Action’s total:

The benefit cuts have hit families when they need support most and when poverty can do permanent damage to children (section 5 of the report goes into the health impacts, read it if you really want to get angry). The cuts hit low-paid working families as well as those that are out of work.

Maternity leave is a vital right for workers and support during pregnancy and when looking after babies is one of the minimum standards we expect of any benefit system. The next time someone tells you the cuts haven’t done any real damage, remind them about £1.5 billion of cuts to maternity benefits and support for babies.

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