Since 2010, the Government has made a series of cuts to benefits and statutory payments targeted at or available to pregnant women and parents of children aged up to 12 months, including freezing and means-testing Child Benefit, abolishing the Health in Pregnancy Grant, and capping the annual up-rating of Statutory Maternity (and Paternity) Pay and Maternity Allowance.
By 2014, these cuts added up to £1.5 billion per year.
Pregnant women and new parents are already facing a difficult environment. The cost of living has increased significantly since the economic downturn began, and wage increases have not kept pace. Pregnancy discrimination in the workplace is forcing as many as 60,000 women out of work each year, and tribunal fees of up to £1,200 have severely restricted access to justice. More than 600 Sure Start centres have closed since 2010, and maternity services are under increasing pressure as staffing fails to keep pace with the increasing birth rate and growing number of complex pregnancies.
This report concludes that these cuts are exacerbating the high rate of poverty among new families, including those in the workforce, and are contributing to the growth in personal debt. Financial pressures are forcing some women to return to work from maternity leave earlier than they would like. And take-up of leave by fathers and partners is affected by family incomes, further reducing the likelihood of shared parenting. This entrenches the division of caring responsibilities and halts progress in reducing the gender pay gap.