This government claimed to be pro-family, yet they're attacking them at every turn - and my son's generation won't thank them for it.
When a friend asked recently if I would be blogging about 'maternity leave', I wasn't sure what she was talking about. Did she mean my passionate belief that men should be allowed extended paternity leave without all the red tape they currently have to wade through? Was she referring to my campaign for the higher rate of maternity allowance to be available to all, regardless of earnings? "No," she said. "I mean, the government plans to reduce maternity leave to 18 weeks?"
When did they sneak that one in? The quiet erosion of parental support under the coalition has not gone as unnoticed as Cleg-Ron would like, but this hadn't registered on my radar at all, and it took me a while to understand what their plans meant.
The way things stand, you're entitled to 52 weeks leave - that's 12 months people - and for nine months of that almost everyone is entitled to the higher rate maternity pay, which has just been increased to around £135 a week. I say everyone because, if you earn less than £135 a week, haven't kept your N.I up to date or, like me, you didn't realise that you physically had to return your small earnings exemption certificate (actually paying National Insurance isn't enough to cancel it, apparently) then you are only entitled to the lower rate (£27 a week in my case). You are also entitled to share your leave with your partner (if you receive the higher rate. Grrr...) as part of the new paternity leave arrangements announced last year.
The new plans are being introduced under the guise of a better sharing arrangement for dads, grandparents etc. But if they go ahead it means new mums will be legally entitled to just four and a half months off with their baby, and any further leave will be under negotiation with their employer, and potentially unpaid.
If your heart rate isn't already elevated and you haven't started penning a letter to your MP, then you're probably not a parent and are either not planning on becoming one or haven't really considered it yet. But let me tell you, as mum to two boys under four, this leaves me cold. It's contradictory to everything we've been taught about parenting.
For a start, the NHS recommends you breastfeed exclusively until your baby is six months old. No solids, no formula. So, in order to do that, new mums will have to turn up to work armed with breast pumps and bottles. Employers will have to make space for them to privately express, provide a fridge to store the milk in, and take the hit on the time they have to spend doing it during their working day. Apart from it being a pain in the bum, it's contradictory advice and really not very good for the economy.
Secondly, sleep deprivation. Not many babies sleep through at four months - I still breast feed our 10 month old twice or more in the night. If, after four and a half months, you feel obliged to return to work, or have to for financial reasons, I can guarantee you won't be very productive.
Thirdly, there is debt. With tax credits being cut and Sure Start centres, which provide free activities, losing funding, it's already pretty expensive to be a parent. If you chose not to return to work and therefore lose your job, or at least have to take leave unpaid, then your only choice might be a loan - perhaps from an unreputable source - causing no end of problems for your family in the future.
Finally, I want to know what the government expect us to do with all these babies while we are working? They've withdrawn funding for Sure Start centres, reducing the number of nursery spaces for children under two, creating child care chaos across the country. I've had my son, now 10 months old, on the waiting list for a local nursery since I was four months pregnant, and they can't offer me a space until at least April 2013! The system is already flooded with desperate parents accepting low standard childcare options - unregulated and expensive nannies, family members who might be very young, very old and untrained, 'childminders' who may not have the correct documentation but parents are so desperate they don't ask...
The government should be nurturing the next generation, but instead they're cutting them off at every turn. No more CTF, cuts to tax credits and child support, reduction in funding to Sure Start Centres, and now they're taking their mummy's away too. Shame on you, Nick and Dave, not just for making these devastating changes, but for continuing to claim family still matters to you.
For more information check out the Working Families 'Six Months for Mums' campaign.