Self-employed New Mums Call For Maternity Pay Equality As Over Half Suffer From Mental Health Issues

Inequality in maternity pay

In the UK, self-employed women receive less 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.

This is an injustice that is taking its toll on the health of mothers and their ability to bond with their new child, as 45% have no choice but to continue to work as soon as the day after giving birth.

I have personally experienced this lack of support, which caused me to suffer both financially and mentally during the first six weeks of becoming a mum. I have a 5-year-old daughter, and for me, it’s not an option to have more children as I work as a locum GP, and I only get paid for the work I invoice for.

Behind closed doors

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 are able to conduct home visits through the GPDQ service, 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.

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.

An example is Charlene, a 34-year-old self-employed wedding / family photographer who started her business 7 years ago. She worked 7 days a week before daughter (now aged 2 arrived). After giving birth, her income dropped drastically and is only now slowly creeping back up.

Another self-employed mum whose business and financial income has suffered due to the current maternity pay system, is Layla Griffin – a 35-year-old self-employed costume designer for TV commercials. Layla has been self-employed for 11 years, and after having her son (now aged 22 months), her annual turnover dropped from £80K to £30K.

Mental health issues

To further confirm these issues, myself and a group of NHS GP colleagues at GPDQ conducted a study, which showed that over half (59%) of self-employed mums admit to suffering from mental health issues such as anxiety, general stress or depression, caused by the amount of responsibility associated with running a business and having a newborn.

As part of the study, we asked self-employed mums how equality in maternity pay would have helped, and 91% said they would have used the income to draft in extra support, whether that be in the form of childcare to assist with the newborn, or hiring a skilled worker to ease the workload of their business.

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% went into employment and 20% are currently unemployed.

Our study also revealed that even the idea of having a baby made 63% of self-employed mums fear for the future, and 67% 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.

Below are the top five negative side effects experienced by self-employed new mums who were forced to work immediately after having a baby:

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%)

Fighting for equality in maternity pay

Too many self-employed mums are suffering in silence behind closed doors. This is why we have come together to launch the ‘Six Weeks Support’ campaign – a petition, which 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.

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.

The ‘Six Week Support’ campaign has already attracted support from the UK’s largest post-natal depression charities – The Association for Post-Natal Illness (APNI) and PANDAS.

We are urging everyone to support our campaign, by signing the dedicated petition here, to lobby government for change.