THOUSANDS of Scottish families will be hit by the planned “mummy tax” being introduced by the coalition government, which will see up to £180 cut from maternity pay in the years ahead.
It is feared that new mothers will be forced to return to work earlier than planned and lose precious bonding time with their babies. Campaigners are warning that working families will be hit as hard by the spending cuts as those on the dole.
About 18,000 Scottish women will be affected by the changes under the controversial proposals, according to figures obtained from the House of Commons by the Labour party.
In the coming year, women will be £53 a year worse over the 33-week period of the standard rate of statutory maternity pay. This rises to £180 by 2015-16. And it comes on top of effective cuts in child benefit levels which will see the payment reduced for families where one parent earns more than £50,000 – and cut completely when they earn more than £60,000.
Peter Kelly, director of Scottish lobby group, the Poverty Alliance, says the figures undermine coalition rhetoric about clamping down on “skivers” and show that the cuts are now affecting everyone.
“A lot of the changes that are taking place through the bene-fits cap or through the wider programme of welfare reforms are hitting people are in work – in many cases to a greater extent than those who are out of work,” he said.
“Those changes in benefits, the cap on child benefit – they’re all going to hit working parents quite hard. It’s one of the areas in the cuts where long-term savings are going to be made, but at the expense of some of the poorest families.
“If we’re looking at mothers who are working part-time and making decisions about starting a family, this is putting more pressure on them either to return to work before they want to, or it’s pushing them into tougher times.”
The cutbacks are part of the coalition government’s efforts to balance Britain’s public finances, which currently carry a deficit of £108 billion more spent on public services than gets raised through taxes to fund them. The UK’s national debt smashed through the £1 trillion barrier earlier this year.
Labour says a rough estimate, agreed with the Commons library, of the 235,000 women forecast to receive maternity pay in 2013-14 in Britain includes about 18,000 in Scotland.
Shadow Scottish secretary Margaret Curran said: “New mums shouldn’t be forced to pay the price for this government’s failure.
“Already, women have been hit particularly hard by this government, with maternity grants cut and baby bonds scrapped. Now, they plan another penalty for women with children at a time when people are finding it more and more difficult to make ends meet.
“New mums should be able to take the time they need with their babies after they leave hospital. With these cuts making time off work less affordable, many women will have to make a choice between bonding with their baby or returning to work earlier than planned.”
In his Autumn Statement, Chancellor George Osborne revealed plans to limit the annual increase in most benefits to just 1 per cent per year for the next three years.
This includes statutory maternity pay which is paid by employers when women take time off to have a baby.
At present, a mother is paid 90 per cent of her salary for the first six weeks of her maternity leave, followed by £135.45 per week for the following 33 weeks. This weekly amount has previously increased every April in line with the previous September’s consumer prices index.
This would have led to a 2.2 per cent rise, equal to around £3 a week. But under the new system, it will rise by only £1.35.
Eilidh Whiteford, the SNP’s work and pensions spokeswoman at Westminster, said the figures underline the impact that the UK government’s “welfare-cutting agenda” is already having on Scotland. “Every day we read more harrowing evidence of its effects, particularly on the most vulnerable,” she said.
“But this latest attack on working families goes totally against the Tories’ stated aim of making work pay, and leaves new mums out of pocket at the very time where they need financial support the most.
“This is just one more example of why it would be far better to be making all the decisions surrounding our welfare system here in Scotland, with independence.”
Many families rely on child benefit, which is usually paid to the mother, to balance weekly budgets.
About 100,000 Scottish families are set to be hit by the changes to this benefit which come in on 7 January. Under the current set-up, parents can claim £20.30 a week for an eldest or only child and £13.40 a week for each of their other children.
Mr Osborne announced an amended plan in this year’s Budget to steadily withdraw child benefit from families where one parent earns more than £50,000.
Until the coalition came to power, in May 2010, it was increased each year in line with the retail prices index. But the three-year freeze followed by two years of tiny rises has wiped out its spending power. Parts of the complicated child tax credit payments will also rise by only 1 per cent for three years from April 2013.
The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) says that last April benefits went up by 5.2 per cent, while wages saw little growth. A spokesman said yesterday: “In difficult economic times we’ve protected benefits for pensioners, carers and disabled people.
“We’ve struck the right balance between ensuring that we protect those who need it most, and responsibly managing the welfare budget that has been left to spiral out of control for years.”
Benefits for carers and disability benefits such as the Attendance Allowance, will continue to be up-rated in line with price inflation, the DWP says.