Maternity Pay: Can you afford to have a baby?

Maternity Pay; Can you afford to have a baby?

“There’s never a ‘right time’ to have a baby, so just go for it!”

Is something I have heard all too often. I don’t disagree with these comments, but every time I find myself contemplating starting a family, all I hear in my mind is, “can you afford to have a baby, Franki?”

With the average age of a first time mum in the UK having increased to 29 years old (depending on where you look), I’m finding myself under increasing pressure to ‘conform’ now I’m approaching 30. I’m not married and I don’t own a house; both things being entirely mine and James’ choice. However there’s still an air of “am I failing?” for not being in the same position, as say my parents were, at my age.

Although at my age, my dad was married with a mortgage and 3 kids and I simply couldn’t imagine that being us right now..! 

It got me thinking about my future and planning how I would need to start budgeting well in advance if James and I were lucky enough to conceive at some point.

Statutory maternity pay (SMP) in the UK is 90% of your salary for 6 weeks, with the following 33 weeks on no more than £145 before tax a week. It seems crazy to me to think that a new mum can live on less than £700* a month when they have a second mouth to feed, bills to pay, a household that needs to keep running in most cases and not end up in a heap of debt.

It made me curious to know how so many other families do it, so I decided to conduct my own research into what maternity packages various employers offered their staff.

I took to Instagram and Facebook** to ask if both guys and gals would share their company policies with me and I was overwhelmed with the responses! There was such a huge range of them, I feel I have managed to cover all basis! From global juggernauts and worldwide airlines to small tech start ups and beauty salons, it’s fair to say that maternity leave and pay is viewed very differently, and it’s not always the big dogs that offer the best packages.

First off, who did I speak to?

Who did I speak to about Maternity packages? Everyone from global tech firms and worldwide airlines to local councils and beauty salons

Other included the Civil Service, Beauty Therapy, Local Council, Banking and Aviation. 

My discussions were held with a mix of Directors of small businesses through to employees of prestigious hospitals, global airlines, tech giants and local councils. What surprised me most was to see that large companies such as the airline, who turnover billions each year, only offer SMP whilst a smaller business with less than 100 employees offered 6 months full pay..!

One of my discussions with a department director brought up an interesting point. They stated We have experienced the rather controversial area of a couple of girls join, and then get pregnant at exactly the point where they qualify for maternity. That is sadly a really common occurrence”…”more should be done to help businesses up to a certain turnover / employee number when women take maternity”  and in this case I agree. This is where policies based on term of service would be a fairer way of doing it. More on those in a moment…

I only offer statutory, As a small business owner, I wouldn't be able to afford anything else

So, what maternity packages are out there?

Of all the answers I received, I was surprised to find that just 32% of them offered SMP as the only maternity pay option. I honestly thought it would be much higher! This was an encouraging start to my research and it was certainly eye opening to discover what other packages were offered, regardless of business size.

20% of my respondents reported that their employer offered 6 months at full pay (one respondent at 90%), often followed by 3 months on SMP or a percentage of their salary and then the remaining 3 months at zero pay. When looking at other tiered packages, examples included:

  • Full pay for the first 6 weeks, then 50 % for 6 weeks, followed by SMP 
  • 6 weeks 90%, 12 weeks 50% and 21 weeks SMP then last 3 months at zero. You would have to pay back the 50% if you do not return to work for 3 months
  • Weeks 1-6 90% of actual earnings (calculated based on last few months pay incl. any bonus), Weeks 7-26 60% salary, Weeks 26-39 50% salary, Weeks 40-52 40% salary
  • Weeks 1-13 full pay, Weeks 14-26 50% pay, Weeks 27-39 SMPWhat other maternity pay packages were on offer in my research?

Doesn’t it depend on your term or length of service?

In the case that maternity pay was based on your term of service, most employees would need to be employed by the company for at least 26 weeks prior to the qualifying week. However, one example stated that employees with more than 2 years service were entitled to an enhanced scheme, upping the SMP period to 50% of basic salary, whilst another stated the following:

  •  If worked there less than 41 weeks by the week of birth, you get government maternity
  •  41-66 weeks: you get statutory maternity pay for 39 weeks paid by the employer (then no pay up to 52 weeks)
  •  67 weeks or more: you get 18 weeks full pay, then 21 weeks statutory, then 13 weeks unpaidYou also accrue and use your minimun 20 dyas of holiday per year, and still be entitled to yearly bonuses and pay rises

Other packages included 18 weeks full pay, 15 weeks full pay followed by SMP, 26 weeks at full pay (basic on basic salary) followed by 13 weeks statutory and one company even paid half salary all the way through your leave and if you went back full time, they gave the other half back to the mother after she’d been back a year..!

Returning to Work

As I have just touched on a return to work policy, let’s explore those a little more, shall we?

All of the policies mentioned had a great focus on encouraging mums back to work and supporting her new work / life balance. Incentives included flexible hours and days, working from home allowances and even 80/20 splits for 6 months to readjust (and help with those childcare costs!). No-one expressed dissatisfaction at their policy, apart from those who may have taken their leave more than 10 years ago – it was deemed the mothers just had to get back into work once their leave was over. It’s refreshing to see the shift in employer attitudes as they start to support the transition from full time mum to working woman again!

Return to work policies focussed on being supportive and encouraging new mums back to work

It’s not all about the mums though…

Of course, I also asked about Paternity polices as these are massively disproportionate; a view that was shared quite a few times during my research!

Statutory Paternity policies are 2 weeks off, at the same rate as SMP which again, just seems so unfair. From the men and women I spoke to, they again opened my eyes to the vast difference in leave offered.

For instance, a multi-national gaming company offer 2 weeks of unpaid leave or the father needs to take holiday (that doesn’t seem quite right as surely they would be eligible to SPP?), a small local tech firm offer 1 week on full pay, the other on SPP whilst a third company offer a whopping 12 weeks, fully paid! Obviously these packages are at the company’s discretion and wholly depend on what the company can afford.

But it raises another question: Is 2 weeks enough? I know I’m not alone when I say “no”, and others will argue this is why Shared Maternity Leave is available… but that’s for another time and blog..! 

Paternity leave varied greatly, from 2 weeks unpaid to 4 weeks fully paid

In all, this was a very interesting exercise and it was refreshing to see how much support some companies are able to offer parents-to-be. Now it’s time to look at the costs of childcare for when you do return to work..!?


*This is calculated on SMP equalling £580 a month, plus child benefit for one child at £80 per month = £660 – That doesn’t even cover my monthly bills! 

**Answers have been kept anonymous as agreed with respondents. 


Leave a Reply