Thank you so much for taking the time today to hear me. I am a new mother, so I was asked to speak today about my experiences.
Four months ago my daughter was born. I began my maternity leave the day I went into labour, as I wanted to be able to spend as much time as possible taking care of my baby during the first year of her life. However, many women are not so fortunate as I was. There are women who simply cannot afford to live on 55% of their already meagre wage, so they are driven back into the workforce earlier than they would like after their baby is born.
My recommendations to this committee are put forth in order to assist these women in taking the time necessary to heal and to care for their newborn babies. While we have some excellent maternity benefit strategies in place in Canada, women who are earning below-average salaries may not be able to take advantage of the maternity benefits that are provided. They are slipping through the cracks.
According to Statistics Canada's most recent data, 1.5 million single women in Canada live on a low income. Many women who are working long hours to provide for their families would simply not be able to live on 55% of their wage. According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation's 2015 report, the average rental cost for a two-bedroom apartment in British Columbia is $1,136. For many women, that would be their entire maternity benefit, leaving nothing for groceries, transportation, and the many other expenses that come with raising a family.
Single mothers in my province, B.C., are provided with assistance in career training and child care during the first year after their maternity leave. This is absolutely a positive step in empowering these women to enter the workforce and thrive, but it does not address the issue of how these women can financially make ends meet while they are caring for their newborn babies at such a vulnerable time. Getting free tuition isn't the same as getting money to put food on the table.
Many women who meet the requirements for the number of hours worked to qualify for maternity leave cannot live on the EI benefits provided, so they return to the workforce earlier than they would like. For that reason, I would like to propose that the committee explore the possibility of providing a minimum level of maternity leave for mothers who have reached the required hours, and increase the amount they are allowed to earn while on maternity leave from 40% to a maximum dollar amount.
These women are working 600-plus hours, which can often prove to be difficult during a pregnancy. They are making efforts to be in the workforce and provide for their families, and they are contributing to the employment insurance program through their paycheques. These efforts often go unrewarded as they return to work early and don't get to collect maternity leave for the full time period allowed.
My second recommendation is to allow families to fill out the necessary paperwork for the child tax benefit earlier. Many women do not begin receiving maternity leave benefits until a few weeks after their child is born, and it is usually a couple of months before the child tax benefit is received. For these families, it is difficult or impossible to withstand a gap in financial inflow. It leads them to return to work, or to rack up high-interest credit card debt that will later be difficult to repay.
I propose that the necessary paperwork and applications can be filled out during a woman's final weeks of pregnancy so that she can receive the child tax benefit as soon as possible after her child is born. This small administrative change could make a world of difference for a family facing financial hardship.
It is a privilege to live in a country like Canada that provides income assistance so that mothers like me can recover from giving birth and stay home and take care of their infant children. The problem comes when a percentage of women are not able to take advantage of such benefits because they are of lower-income status.
When I became pregnant, I had a choice. I chose to keep my pregnancy, have a child, and stay home with her in her first year of life. I was supported financially by my husband's income and the EI maternity leave benefits I collected. Not all mothers feel they have the choice to keep their pregnancy due to financial limitations and hardships. In a country as blessed as Canada is, this is tragic. We cannot be content to know that some women may want to keep their child but don't because they feel they need to decide between their baby and the ability to have basic necessities for survival.
Women who choose motherhood should be cared for in such a way that they never feel they need to decide between keeping their baby and entering poverty. We need to ensure that they are given the freedom to take the time to recover from childbirth and the freedom to care for their newborn or infant child at home during those initial vital months of care and bonding.
Often, these financial hardships are limited in time, so the mother would be fine after a few years of help and support and would be able to raise her children independently thereafter.
Mr. Gerretsen has given us the opportunity with Bill C-243 to broaden the scope of the wonderful maternity benefits we have in this country so that they can reach the women who most need them. There are vulnerable women in difficult situations who have made the choice to keep their babies, to give birth and raise children. We should honour that choice and implement supports to aid them in the journey of taking care of themselves and their children.
Thank you for your time.