For most women, becoming a mother is a time of joy and happiness; but for many, pregnancy and early motherhood are times of stress, anxiety and uncertainty.
Maternity Action, a campaigning organisation established in 2008, works to ensure that women’s employment rights are protected during pregnancy and maternity leave, and that migrant women, refugees and asylum seekers can access the advice and support they desperately need during pregnancy, birth and the early months of motherhood.
Rosalind Bragg is a director of Maternity Action and says that the organisation’s services are needed now more than ever.
“In terms of employment rights, it’s perhaps surprising to realise that things are getting worse, not better,” she explains.
“Government research shows there’s been an 80% increase in women forced out of their jobs as a result of discrimination around pregnancy and motherhood in the last ten years, whether it’s being made redundant during maternity leave, or being sidelined or pushed out on their return to work.
“Only three percent of women affected will pursue a grievance through official channels, and three quarters won’t challenge it,” she adds.
The problem isn’t that the law has changed to remove women’s rights, rather that the support services to help women who have been discriminated against aren’t there any more, as a result of austerity cuts and budget reductions. So more bad employers are effectively ‘getting away with it’. Demand for Maternity Action’s advice service are growing year on year.
The organisation is campaigning for the adoption of the system in Germany, where it is illegal to make a woman redundant who is pregnant, on maternity leave or in the first six months back at work.
Successive waves of immigration legislation and benefit changes in recent years has also massively affected pregnant refugees, asylum seekers and migrants to the UK.
“Life is very difficult for many women who are pregnant or who have babies and small children,” says Rosalind. “Often they find themselves without secure migration status due to relationship breakdown, and they find they’re unable to claim housing benefit, for example. So at an incredibly important stage of their life, they can’t even access housing or shelter.”
Maternity Action provides online and telephone support, and trains midwives and volunteer workers to help vulnerable women. Few midwives receive specialist training to deal with such situations, and Maternity Action’s programmes help them understand the experiences of women in these circumstances, gives them an understanding of immigration issues and helps them signpost women towards services which can help them.
“We’ve trained over 500 midwives in the last nine years,” says Rosalind. “Many of them attend in their spare time – this service isn’t high on the agenda for stretched NHS budgets.”
Maternity Action employs twelve staff on a flexible basis – equivalent to six full time staff - at its London office. It’s important for the organisation that it works with suppliers and partners that have an ethical base, says Rosalind. “…so choosing The Phone Co-op as telecoms and broadband supplier after a review last year was a simple decision. Their values match ours.”
Maternity Action is an NCVO member.