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Women decide to go self-employed for a multitude of reasons, but one of the big ones is family. At the end of the day, being self-employed offers you a level of flexibility that full or part-time employment just can't compete with. Rather than having to make childcare fit around rigid working hours, being self-employed means you can fit your work around childcare and, straight away, this makes being a working mum 100 times simpler.
However, there's one place where employed women in the UK get a much better deal than their self-employed counterparts, and that's maternity leave.
Even if your employer only adheres to the most basic minimum requirement for maternity pay, as an employee, you're entitled to six weeks at 90 percent of your average weekly earnings, followed by the remaining 33 weeks at £140.98 or 90 percent of your average weekly earnings, whichever is less. However, if you're a self-employed mum-to-be, the maximum you're entitled to is a flat rate of £140.98 or 90 percent of your average weekly earnings, whichever is less, for 39 weeks.
The thing is, those first six weeks make a difference. If I'd had those first six weeks at 90 percent of my average weekly earnings, I'd have got more than double the flat rate for six weeks. This would have meant I could have saved the "extra" money and given myself an extra six weeks at the end of my maternity leave.
And that's just me. I was actually lucky as I could just about afford to take the full 39 weeks. A lot of self-employed women in the UK have to hurry back to work within the first six weeks of their baby being born, which can have a dreadful impact on their mental and physical wellbeing. I didn't know if I was coming or going for the first 12 or so weeks after Iris was born, so working would have been completely beyond me. So being able to claim that bit of extra would be a massive help and enable women to spend more time with their babies, as well as recovering after pregnancy and childbirth.
So, what are the knock-on effects of the crap maternity allowance and having to return to work too early?
Well, I can only speak for myself here, but I spent the first week back in work crying my eyes out. I wasn't ready to work, I wasn't ready to be more than just "Mummy", and I certainly wasn't ready to leave my nine-month-old with strangers.
Now, I got away with this because I was working from home. I was able to let it all out because no one could see. But imagine if you worked from an office. Chances are, you'd feel as if you needed to bottle it all up so as not to make anyone feel uncomfortable. That's not exactly great for your mental health either, is it?
As the weeks have gone on since returning to work, it has started to get easier. Iris is settled at nursery and I'm finding putting one foot in front of the other at work is doable too. But, truth be told, if I could afford to, I'd still be off and having more time with my little girl.
And I'm sure that's how a lot of other self-employed mums feel too.