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‘Maternity leave must be extended so new mums don’t lose out due to lockdown’ | UK News

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Bethan Jones’s hopes for a normal maternity leave fell apart when the lockdown began.

She’s endured sleepless nights over money and “constant worries” about returning to work. Bethan also fears her son is missing out on vital interaction with other children.

Thousands in a similar position are campaigning on social media and have signed a petition for a three-month extension to maternity pay.

Bethan’s employer is allowing her to take an extra few months off, but she says government action would solve her worries and mean she could fully enjoy her “dream” of being a mum.

I became a first-time mum on 26 November last year to a boy named Chase.

I delivered via C-section, which left me isolated for six weeks, and then became a single mum when my son turned eight weeks old.

I depended quite heavily on the baby classes: one as a new mum, and two due to the break-up with his father.

As soon as they stopped, I didn’t really know how to play with him, what kinds of toys to use to get his development up to scratch.

I was completely isolated from any other new mums that could have helped me and build a bond with.

The classes gave me a reason to leave the house and allowed my son to interact with other babies to help his development.

Chase
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Chase’s mum worries he may have suffered because he hasn’t been able to mix with others his age

But lockdown took away social contact, not only for me but also for my son.

Mental health is the saddest part.

I dreamed of being a mum half my life.

I finally become one and my mind is clouded with constant worries about my son developing correctly, how he will be affected by being with me 24/7 then being with a stranger, and how to keep my house running.

I haven’t been able to leave him in anyone’s care, so separation anxiety is a severe concern.

But most of all, I am worried about how I will keep my son fed and a roof over his head once September passes.

I had to let my employer know by 18 June if I wanted to take another three months’ unpaid leave as employers need up to 12 weeks’ notice.

It was stressing me out to the point where I wasn’t sleeping – I could barely function being up with a baby all day.

With childcare full-time availability uncertain for September due to government guidelines for childminders and new nursery admissions, I decided to extend my leave rather than be left with no childcare and unable to go back to work.

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Many women say they’ve missed out on new mum classes because of the lockdown

I’ve also taken a payment holiday on my mortgage and on my car finance – and I’ve got an overdraft as well.

If the government grants the petition, my financial troubles would be erased.

I can actually enjoy some of my maternity leave, look into baby classes, get back out with mummy friends I have met and get my son socialising with other children, and prepare him to be left with a stranger five days a week.

The furlough scheme doesn’t help single mums because none of us were on furlough by a certain date.

People who have already gone back to work are getting that, but not people like me who are due back in September.

We’ve had to decide not to go back to work purely because we haven’t got childcare – we’ve had to prioritise our children over paying our bills.

We shield until we give birth and then the babies are on their own. There was never a message about what to do with a newborn.

Pregnancy and maternity discrimination affects 390,000 women each year
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The government says UK maternity pay is ‘amongst the most generous in the world’

My son was 12 weeks old when we went into lockdown. It was as though the government didn’t care.

New mums have had constant worries that keep us up at night and it just wasn’t needed. All they needed to do was say one message.

For us to have this extension it would just take those worries away so we can actually enjoy our babies.

In response to the petition, the government said UK maternity leave was “already amongst the most generous in the world” and there are no plans to extend it.

It said regulations ensure women will not be paid less maternity pay if they are put on furlough, and calls the closure of many mother and baby groups during lockdown “regrettable but necessary” to protect health.

“It is also possible for employers to offer furlough pay at the end of a woman’s maternity leave and pay period, in effect extending the period a woman is away from work,” said a statement from the Department for Business.

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