From early in my pregnancy I had planned to leave work as soon as I was possibly allowed, to go on maternity leave. I had nice ideas about working full-time on my PhD research and starting the write up, so that I would be well ahead on return to work. My part-time work as a lecturer makes great demands on my time as I teach a good 12 hours a week within 2.5 days and it requires hours of prep; no mean feat I can tell you. Anyway; I had hoped that my leave would be a nice relaxed situation, as I was promised that my monthly research bursary would continue as long as I continued my research and this would mean that along with the Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) I would be on a much lower income, but still be able to get by as long as my husband and I stuck to a good budget. I will mention here that he is a full time undergraduate student and therefore receives a student loan to supplement our income.
Sadly my plans were never to be. I was called into human resources for my final discussions on my leave about a month before I was due to take it and informed that due to the fact that the college pay my bursary, they felt that I should not be carrying on with my research over the course of my maternity leave. OK so that sounds fairly reasonable? Well unfortunately I could not put the research on hold as the summer season is the only time I am able to collect the ecological data for my project and my leave coincided with the summer months. I explained this to them very clearly, but they seemed uninterested and made it very clear they would not be paying me the bursary as they were against me continuing research whilst on leave, despite the fact that it was the perfect time for me to do this. Normally I am so busy with work I hardly have time to think about the research, even on my allocated PhD days.
Obviously I was distraught, as the reasonable income I had hoped for, was now down to about £700 in total including my husband’s loan payments. Sadly that amount doesn’t even cover our monthly outgoings of around £800 (rent, bills, and my own loan payments etc., food not included). The SMP pay by the way starts off alright at 90% (remember however my bursary of half my monthly income is gone regardless), but quickly falls to a very low amount. In order to pay our bills and then have more money for food and baby products we were going to have to find some help financially. After a tearful conversation with my own parents they assumed me they could help us if we needed it and I told them that would be a last resort.
I took legal advice on the situation and help from the university’s financial guidance team, but apparently there are no benefits, grants or any other sources of income available due to the fact that I work and my husband is a student. I also took advice on the cutting of my bursary, but apparently there are no laws governing maternity rights of research students with regards to bursaries and if an employer doesn’t want to pay it they have the right not to, even if it is bad practice not to continue the payments!
Well needless to say I was forced to remain at work until I could no longer carry on physically (Outdoor teaching is very hard work and I also work very late nights wardening for the college on a regular basis), about a month before my due date. I have been forced to borrow a large amount of money from my parents and ask for family to contribute towards other costs where they could. This has been so difficult for me and even harder for my husband, as he feels terrible about relying on my parents so heavily. I had to sell my car to get a more economical and cheaper to insure/tax model and we have cut all our bills to the lowest we can afford, but we still struggle to get by. Whenever I have mentioned it to collegues at work, people have been appalled, however one of my male managers stated that he thought that if I chose to have a baby I shouldn’t be allowed to work, but that my husband shouldn’t be doing a degree but working full time! I’m sorry fella but getting a job at the moment isn’t easy, especially if you don’t already have a degree. I have been informed by advisors that I could sue the college for harassment and discrimination, but I know it would make everything much harder when I want to go back, so I have just given up and resigned to the fact that we will have to owe my parents for years to come.
Well there it is; the story of our struggles with maternity leave and pay. Here I am wondering how different it would have been if I were a single mum! Benefits galore I can imagine…