However, if you have your baby prematurely, maternity leave commences as soon as your baby is born. So, in my case, I was planning to start maternity leave 4 weeks before my Estimated Due Date, but instead, had to commence it two months early. That's a lot of money to lose through no fault of your own.
In addition to the maternity leave kicking in, there is the problem of paternity leave. In the UK fathers are entitled to 2 weeks paternity leave (at a similar rate to the SMP). Now once the baby is born prematurely, there is a problem, because do you want to use your paternity leave to support the mother of the baby and visit the baby in hospital, or do you want to keep hold of this until the baby comes home?
Now if losing out through maternity pay isn't enough, there is a whole new set of financial problems when your baby is in special care.
In its Baby Report that I have talked about in my previous post, Bliss have produced an estimate of additional costs when a baby is in special care.
- Travel: £400
- Food: £240
- Accommodation: £110
- Childcare: £100 (this is important if the parents already have other children at home)
- Car park: £125
- Loss of earnings: £1260
- Other: £565 (including phone calls, premature baby nappies, breast pumps etc)
And I know it sees so trivial in the grand scheme of things but items for small babies are dearer than for normal ones. The micronappies we had to provide never go on offer. Only Pampers appear to make them. I was told Tesco do them, but our local Tesco (which is a big one) refused to stock them, the nearerst stockist was 15 miles away! And whilst I agree with the principal that the baby is yours and you should be responsible for its expenses, at a time when money is tight, buying nappies for a baby who shouldn't even be born yet, is just another added expense and more money to find, and another reminder that the situation in which you find yourself is not normal.
I really struggled with meals. I didn't want to spend money on hospital food, but we didn't even have access to a fridge to put sandwiches in (and it was high summer when Joseph was on the unit) The cafeteria was busy, and expensive. Despite just about being staff members, we weren't eligible for discounted meals, a 20% discount would have helped enormously. I tried to cut lunches and take them in but it wasn't always easy, I was expressing, travelling nearly an hour each way, and recovering from a c-section. Sometimes it just didn't feel there were enough hours in the day.
I had to catch buses to the hospital. Our hospital provides free parking for long stay patients, but there is no help with public transport. A 28 day pass cost £60. Joseph was in for 76 days, albeit for 10 of these in total I was in hospital with him. My husband was not permitted time off work, when I was criticially ill in hospital and Joseph was suffering from NEC and very poor indeed, my husband had to use annual leave for a week, then return to work, leaving me to find my way to and from hospital on my own. I don't drive, but even if I had been able to drive, our insurance wouldn't have permitted me to until six weeks post c-section.
It was a very hard time for us, and we were incredibly lucky, due to my job and my husband's job we had private health insurance, and we got a rebate for having to be accommodated in an NHS hospital as there was no private facilities available in our area. So all the costs we laid out were covered by this payment, albeit some months after discharge, however we were fine.
But most families do not have this sort of insurance, and in fact no one in my unit had heard of NHS cash benefit.
I am not sure what the answer is, but I do think the system of SMP starting once a baby is born is unfair. I do think if this is the case, their should be some financial provision for parents in this situation. I have heard some terrible stories of families who have lost their homes, or had County Court Judgements, and are still picking up the pieces years afterwards.
Tomorrow I will talk more about support for families and the sort of strain families are under in these circumstances.