Remaining financially independent as a mother is non-negotiable to me, and it’s increasingly unclear as to how I would achieve this. Below is a summarised version of what went to my Local MP one Sunday afternoon, and I'm almost kind of wishing I never read 'Pregnant then Screwed'.
We are planning on starting a family next year and are concerned by the affordability of taking parental leave and the subsequent cost of childcare which impacts the number of children we have, my career (as the mother), my financial independence, and the ability of my partner (the father) to bond with the child and be a parent.
The main problem I am facing is being able to engineer an equitable opportunity to meet my living costs, return to work, and raise a child.
It appears as though the Government rules provide clear restrictions to being a working mother – namely, the low amount of Statutory Maternity Pay which does not meet living costs and the high costs of childcare which wedges me into a difficult position if I want to remain financially independent and continue working.
My workplace provides Statutory Maternity Pay (“SMP”) – 90% of average weekly earnings (before tax) for the first 6 weeks, then £151.97 or 90% of average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for the next 33 weeks. After the first 6 weeks, this works out at £600 a month to live on, having birthed a child. Currently, my fixed cost outgoings (rent, bills, transport, food, mobile phone bills, etc) are approx. £1,000/month. Assuming that transport fees and the cost of nappies cancel each other out, I’m facing a shortfall of £400/ month, following the first 6 weeks of child birth, for the duration of my maternity leave. This also does not take into account the cost of a cot, pram, clothes, etc.
Having read through the available guidance on the Gov.UK website, there appear to me to be five options:
Rely on my Partner to make up the financial difference during maternity leave
Return to work after 6 weeks and purchase nursery childcare
Return to work after 6 weeks and purchase childminding
Save enough money the year prior to afford to take off the time it takes to heal / bond / etc
Use Shared Parental Leave
Each of these options and associated time, energy, and financial costs are outlined below – they illustrate the gaps which leave me to pick up the slack.
In addition, I’ve got no idea how my pregnancy will go – it may be on a sliding scale from ‘ouch’ to ‘traumatic’ and I don't know when I could get pregnant, which may cancel out any time needed for planning & saving money.
Option 1: Rely on my Partner to make up the financial difference
As an employee, the Father is entitled to either one or two weeks of paid paternity leave. The statutory weekly rate of Paternity Pay (“SPP”) is £151.97, or 90% of average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) – again, if the Father took off two weeks, we would be looking at half a monthly wage and SPP of £300 for 2 weeks.
For our household to afford one set of parental leave (maternity), the Father has to go back to work full time. Despite now being a Father, he will be back in the office immediately and our roles are clearly split – I am not earning money and he is not parenting. Granted, he is eligible to use Annual Leave to take time off although I’m sure you can agree this is moot because it’s not a holiday.
This would mean I would be looking after a 2 week old baby alone, perhaps with the support of baby groups and so on which are no substitute for the father. It’s also complete nonsense, because I currently contribute on a completely equal financial basis to the household.
Statutory Maternity Pay does not meet my living costs and this is the basis on which I am forced to rely on my Partner to be able to afford to take maternity leave. There is also an increased risk here borne by me of progressing at work as I will be out of the office. As an example, per child I will be pregnant for 9 months and recovering for about 6. That is 15 months per child either working whilst pregnant or being off work recovering from being pregnant, alongside raising a baby, which would undoubtedly shape my performance reviews. If I’m not making money for a company, I’m not an effective employee.
Option 2: Return to work after 6 weeks and purchase nursery childcare
Assuming that I do not prolapse, tear & get stitched up, require an emergency c-section, or suffer from post-natal depression, it should be reasonable for me to return to the office after 6 weeks. It varies from nursery to nursery, some offer care for babies 'from birth' but the youngest age that babies generally start nursery is around 3 months so I’m not clear on who would look after our 6 week old baby in Reading. Remember, the Father has 1-2 weeks of SPP, and any Annual Leave that he can allocate. Then there's the consideration of how I would coordinate breastfeeding and so on, from my workplace in Slough.
Nevertheless, from my research of the nurseries within walking distance from my house (walking distance is considered as a max of 30 minutes on foot), we are looking at an average price of £1,000 a month. So, I can either have a deficit of £400/ month from weeks 6-33 of maternity pay or I can go back to work and spend most of my pay check paying someone else to look after my 6 week old baby. I would also add that most nursery drop-offs are 09:00 with pick up from 15:00 which is incompatible with working hours of 08:00 – 18:00 (realistically).
Currently, I save approx. 30% of my annual salary for a mortgage, wedding, investments, and general savings. After savings, 70% on my annual salary remains and 56% of that goes towards rent, utilities, and food. Once nursery is added in for a first child, at a presumed cost of £500 a month on the basis that my partner and I each pay half, 88% of my income after savings goes towards rent, utilities, food, and nursery. We would not be able to afford to have a second child in nursery.
This options decreases the risk borne by me of progressing at work as I will be in the office and have taken little time out so promotions and so forth might be easier to pursue.
Option 3: Return to work after 6 weeks and purchase nursery childminding
Again, assuming that I do not prolapse, tear & get stitched up, require an emergency c-section, or suffer from post-natal depression, it should be reasonable for me to return to the office after 6 weeks.
Childminders charge between £5 - £7 an hour, so for my actual working day from 08:00 – 18:00 my monthly costs would still be approx. £1,000 and I’d need to add in half an hour each side of 08:00 and 18:00 for drop-offs / pick-ups, so it would be slightly more. Again, this would need to be both financial and physically accessible for my Partner and I. The decision to return to work 6 weeks after given birth would be purely driven by economics which is an extremely limited view to take however, Statutory Maternity Pay does not meet my living costs and it’s not clear what other options exist.
We would not be able to afford to have a second child being child minded. This does decrease the risk borne by me progressing at work as I will be in the office and have taken little time out so promotions and so forth might be easier to pursue.
Option 4: Save enough money the year prior to afford to take off the time it takes to heal / bond / etc
Assuming that I do suffer from at least one of the following - prolapse, tear & get stitched up, require an emergency c-section, or suffer from post-natal depression – 6 months should be an adequate time to return to the office. Keep in mind that I am only guaranteed to return to the job I left after 26 weeks of maternity leave so, in this economic climate, I will not be risking taking any more than 26 weeks off. £1,000 / month leaves for no ‘spare’ cash for a broken boiler or a coffee in the park, so let’s assume £1,200 for comfy living.
We are looking at £300 / week for each week of maternity leave for me to meet my own living costs. This requires £3,000 (£2,960 to be exact) to be saved up before having a child – as below. This is a cheaper option than childcare per Options 2 & 3 and would let me bond with my child.
However, it does mean I am home alone with the child while my partner is at work and does not let me contribute equally to the cost of the mortgage, because all that Option 4 does is make sure I don’t finish maternity leave in debt. It also suggests that I can somehow choose if/when I get pregnant which is a falsehood and I might not actually be able to save that much money before falling pregnant.
Option 4 does not seem to solve the problem, merely individualise it. It would also mean I would be looking after a baby alone, perhaps with the support of baby groups and so on which are no substitute for the father who would be working full time. This does increase the risk borne by me progressing at work as I will be out of the office for a long period of time.
Option 5: Shared Parental Leave
We both qualify for shared parental leave, subject to both workplaces accepting it. We can switch the childcare between us and return to work, however each of us will still only have £152.00 a week for the weeks that we are on parental leave. It’s not enough money – the only place I rented in Reading for even close to that money, was sharing a 3 bed flat on Bath Road for £385 a month, excluding bills.
It also means that we both lose out on pension payments whilst we take parental leave. Again, we would both avoid returning to work after 26 weeks in a bid to keep our jobs (approx. 6.5 months) which leaves us 9.25 months of parental leave to share. The Father doesn’t get the 90% of his wage for the first 6 weeks, just the Mother so – again – we have to use economics to split the leave so it would make the most sense for me to take the first 6 weeks off. Again, after the first 6 weeks each Parent would receive £152 / week.
Once again, after Shared Parental Leave we are looking at either nursery or childcare for approx. £1,000 / month per child. At this point, we would not be able to afford to have a second child being child minded or in nursery. There is also an increased risk here borne by both parents of progressing at work because we are both out of work.
I am keen to remain financially independent if I become a mother and it currently seems like this is impossible, despite being in a well-paid job with a very supportive partner. I'm open to ideas & suggestions, right now - it's looking like a scam.