Worried parents of premature children fighting for their lives are facing crippling financial costs running into thousands of pounds.
A special North East foodbank has now been set up to help some mums and dads who would otherwise go hungry just so they can afford to visit their poorly children in hospital.
Research has found that parents with a baby in neonatal care in the region spend on average £280 a week.
With the average stay being eight weeks, this results in a total of £2,240. But a significant number of babies will spend considerably longer, up to six months.
Now, a regional charity is funding a paediatric social worker to provide emotional support to parents, advise them on financial issues and helps access funding.
Tiny Lives, the charity which supports the work of the Special Care Baby Unit at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary is supporting Fiona Ewing in her role working with those struggling to cope.
On top of the daily parking, travel and food expenses, some dads have reported losing their jobs as they battle to juggle work with visits and having to rush to hospital at a moment’s notice when their baby’s condition takes a turn for the worse.
Many mums of premature babies also find themselves facing delays to benefit payments as their maternity leave was not due to start for many weeks, or even months. Some families are still paying off the debts months after their babies have returned home.
Carol Meredith, head of Tiny Lives, said:
“It’s a parent’s worst nightmare. Your baby is fighting for their life in hospital. You can’t hold them, you can’t even touch them. As a mum or dad all you’d want to do is be there by their incubator as it’s all that you can do.
“But on top of this many families are having to stop and consider how are they going to afford to pay for it. Babies come to the unit for specialist care from across the North East and Cumbria so many parents have long daily journeys or may have to stay in Newcastle. As well as the travel and parking, the daily cost of buying food can soon add up.”
“Just because your baby is in special care, time doesn’t stand still and there are still bills to pay.
“Families often need benefits advice as income levels can reduce significantly with early labour. Maternity Allowance may need to be applied for. This application requires six months of relevant wage slips – not too easy to get hold of if you live in Whitehaven, Cumbria and your baby is in critical care in Newcastle.
“Fathers may need help in negotiating time off from employment, or emotional support when this is not granted and when employment is threatened. I have experience of several fathers who have lost their jobs as a result of their babies SCBU admission.
“If a baby has longer term complex health needs there may be entitlement to Disability Living Allowance. This is a 42 page applicable pack, a bit daunting, so I help establish eligibility and complete these forms.
“Other practical assistance may be in helping with housing issues, especially if the child has very complex health needs or disability.
“We can help with parking and travel costs and the social workers at the hospital have set up our own food bank. When you are in the middle of a city centre there is no access to cheap supermarkets and the cost of food quickly adds up. We used to refer families to one of the city’s food banks but it is so busy now that we set up our own.
“I am also there to allow parents to let off steam. Special Care can be a scary, place,
“Having a premature baby brings with a range of emotions, from shock and disbelief to guilt and anger as well as having to face the possibility that your baby might not survive or will have long term health problems.”
This year Fiona’s role will be funded in partnership with Newcastle law firm Sintons, who launched their year of fundraising with an abseil from their offices.
• To find out more about Tiny Lives or to support their work visit http://www.tinylives.org.uk/
Kayleigh Emmerson’s son Connor was born at just 25 weeks on November 18 2014.
He weighed just 1lb 10oz and spent 101 days on SCBU, but is now a thriving little boy.
Kayleigh, 24, from Newcastle, said:
“We wanted to be there every day. It was the only way we could feel like parents, as there was nothing else we could do for him. It was awful when you had to leave him crying.
“But the car parks and bus fares added up. Then there was the food. When you’re in the city centre every day buying a sandwich or going to the hospital canteen gets very expensive.
“Our heads were all over the place and the first thing on your mind is just that you want to see your baby and you want them to get better, but then after a while you have to think do I actually have the money to go on the bus or buy food to eat?
“I was working as a sales assistant but wasn’t supposed to start my maternity leave until the end of January. We had a massive gap before my maternity pay could be sorted out because he was born so early. Fiona was always checking on us and making sure we’d had something to eat and that was the time the food bank really helped us.
“She really cares about people and she helped us with everything, from just being there to talk to helping us with forms and giving us advice.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 27 Apr 2015
Government benefit cuts are pushing pregnant women and new parents into worsening poverty, says a damning new report.
The report – Valuing families? – from the charity Maternity Action, who provide free advice to parents about welfare benefits and healthcare, found that government welfare cuts are “exacerbating the high rate of poverty among new families”.
Since coming to office in 2010, the Tory-led coalition government has made a number of cuts to benefits and payments available to pregnant women and children. This includes freezing and means-testing Child Benefit; removing the baby element, and capping the annual up-rating of Statutory Maternity (and Paternity) Pay and Maternity Allowance.
The government has also reduced the income cut-off for the family element of Child Tax Credit, removed Sure Start Maternity Grants for all but a family’s first child and abolished both the Child Trust Fund and Health in Pregnancy Grant.
Maternity Action says cuts to welfare benefits and other payments available to families, including for working parents, are “contributing to the growth in personal debt” at a time when the cost of living has increased significantly.
Financial stress can lead to poor mental health among parents and this is linked to potential behavioural difficulties in children, says Maternity Action. The report says “women affected by poverty are less likely to have good nutrition during pregnancy, which contributes to the high rates of low birth weight in the UK”.
The report draws attention to the 2010 Marmot Review, which recommended early intervention to support families on both low and middle-incomes experiencing poor health, as a result of a squeeze on incomes.
Cuts in maternity benefits are pushing women to return to work after maternity sooner than they would like, while the take-up of paternity leave among fathers is affected by family incomes, reducing the likelihood of shared parenting. Maternity Action say this “entrenches the division of caring responsibilities and halts progress in reducing the gender pay gap”.
The charity says reducing maternity benefits is “at odds with evidence-based strategies to address health inequalities”, adding “poverty and poor health are inextricably linked and children born to parents living in poverty are more likely to present with developmental and social problems later in life”.
The report said as many as 60,000 women are forced to leave their jobs every year, because of pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. The introduction of employment tribunal fees means that some women face a £1,200 barrier to justice.
More than 600 Sure Start services have closed their doors since Prime Minister David Cameron and his government took office in 2010, reducing the number of available sources of advice and support for new parents.
Maternity Action has called on the government to increase maternity benefits and treat Maternity Allowance as ‘earnings from employment’, within the new Universal Credit system.
The charity is also calling on the government to increase the National Minimum Wage and:
- Assist low to medium income families with the costs of each new baby, by reinstating the Sure Start Maternity Grant for second and subsequent children.
- Provide support for low-income women during pregnancy to ensure a healthy diet, by increasing Healthy Start payments by 14.5% (the increase in the cost of food and non-alcoholic beverages since the benefit was last up-rated in 2010).
- Review access to maternity benefits for pregnant women and new mothers who do not have indefinite leave to remain and for EEA nationals, with the aim of reducing poverty amongst migrant families residing in the UK. This should take into account the impact of extending from two years to five years the period of residency in the UK required for migrants with spouse/partner/fiancé(e) visas to apply for indefinite leave to remain, and restrictions on access to benefits by EEA nationals.
- Take immediate steps to reduce the high rate of pregnancy discrimination to enable pregnant women and new parents to retain their jobs and have the confidence to exercise their maternity and parental rights at work.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 14 Nov 2014