The UK has the fastest-growing population in Europe and 2013 is set to be another record year for the number of babies born. But the National Childcare Trust has warned that many new parents are unaware of the benefits, freebies and tax breaks available. So what help is there?
Although new mothers are entitled to 52 weeks maternity leave (during which you should continue to accrue holiday entitlements, pension payments and other benefits like health insurance or gym membership), your employer only has to pay 39 weeks of maternity pay, worth 90 per cent of your average pre-tax earnings. For the last 33 weeks, it drops to £136.78 a week in the current tax year or 90 per cent of your earnings, whichever is lower. You'll only be eligible for Statutory Maternity Pay if you inform your employer you're pregnant at least 15 weeks before your due date, you've been working for them continuously, for at least the 26 weeks running up to that 15th week before your baby is due, and you currently earn £109 or more a week.
There is hope for those who don't qualify, including the self-employed. As long as you've been paying national insurance contributions and been employed or self-employed for at least 26 weeks in the 66 weeks before the week your baby is due, and have been earning at least £30 a week in any 13-week period in that time, you should be eligible for £136.78 a week in Government- paid Maternity Allowance (get more information on gov.uk).
Free milk, vegetables and vitamins are available for all pregnant women under 18, and those on certain benefits, plus free dental care and prescriptions for all mothers-to-be. Firms like Cow & Gate, Heinz and Mothercare offer freebies, and see websites like babyfreebies.co.uk. After baby arrives, there's child benefit and tax credits.