A Croydon charity was celebrating yesterday after winning a four-year campaign to secure increased maternity pay for parents of premature babies.
Catriona Ogilvy of The Smallest Things charity said she was “over the moon” after the government confirmed that parents of sick babies would be eligible for up to 12 further weeks of leave.
Kemi Badenoch MP, Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury and Minister for Equalities told the Sunday Times: “In this week’s budget the government will bring in a historic new entitlement ensuring parents having to take time off work because they have a sick baby will get paid parental leave.
“This will be in addition to the usual maternity and paternity leave, and finally give parents the time, the resources and the space to handle these difficult circumstances”.
“So, if their baby is in care for more than a week, they will be able to claim statutory paid leave for every week the baby is in care, to a maximum of 12. The leave will be paid at a rate of around £160 per week.”
Ogilvy said of the announcement: “We’ve done it! As parents who have spent the first days, weeks or months of our children’s lives in a neonatal intensive care unit, we are over the moon that the worry of work and pay will be eased for the incubator-watchers who follow in our footsteps.
“As a charity, we are delighted that our hard work and campaigning has paid off. This will make a difference to many families at the toughest times in their lives when the health of their babies needs to be top priority.”
The charity, run by volunteers whose children were all born early, recognises the impact of premature birth lasts long after leaving the neonatal unit.
Ogilvy said: “My first weeks of maternity leave were spent visiting him each day in hospital, sitting beside his incubator, filled with uncertainty and worry. I couldn’t understand how this time could be my maternity leave and I felt robbed of our time together”.
She said her maternity leave at home with sons Samuel and Jack was curtailed because her son spent months in hospital.
She said that as a mother, she felt like she needed more time to bond with her tiny baby, as well as time to recover from their traumatic journey and time at home for Samuel to grow and develop before she could get back to her normal work life.
A study done by The Smallest Things, highlighted the starting impact on maternal mental health, with 63% of mothers reporting anxiety following discharge and 44% of mothers experiencing flashbacks to their time in neonatal care. While 1 in 10 mothers will develop Postnatal Depression, this figure rises to 4 in 10 for those after premature birth.
The charity was set up in September 2014. One year later, Ogilvy launched a petition that now has received over 350,000 signatures and with the support of other parents has established a charity.
The announcement in the budget recognises their work.
Badenoch went on to say: “We know that almost 40,000 babies born in Great Britain each year have to spend more than a week in neonatal care. And a survey of parents affected found that 80 percent of them reported that their mental health suffered as a result.
“As with existing parental leave, the government will incur almost all of the cost, rather than businesses. Creating this ground-breaking new entitlement is the right thing to do. We also think it is value for money, because a more supportive workplace environment for employees should be good for business and for the UK economy as a whole.”
The Smallest Things believes extending parental leave will give parents the emotional and financial support needed at a time of great stress and trauma, leading to better postnatal health and more positive return to work and better outcomes for baby’s development.
As a charity they are now urging the government to introduce the changes quickly and to make consideration for parents who do not currently qualify for parental leave rights, for example self-employed parents.