Government has failed to respond urgently to landmark report on the impact of Covid-19 on maternity and parental leave

Chair of the Petitions Committee, Catherine McKinnell MP has today criticised the Government for failing to meet the Committee’s request to respond urgently to its report on the impact of Covid-19 on maternity and parental leave, which was published earlier this month.

In a letter from Paul Scully MP, Minister for Small Business, Consumers and Labour Markets, the Government stated that a response to the Report from his department would not be possible before the House rose for Summer Recess on 22 July due to the need for careful consideration of recommendations and for discussions with counterparts in other relevant departments.

In its report, the Committee found that the Government needed to urgently review how new parents are supported during the crisis after thousands of petitioners raised concerns about the dangerous impact the pandemic is having on their children’s development and their own mental health.

The publication of the Committee’s report on 6 July came after more than 226,000 people signed an e-petition calling for the Government to extend maternity leave by 3 months with pay in light of Covid-19. The Committee received over 69,000 responses to its online surveys and Facebook post, with people sharing their experiences and views on the Government’s response and on the actions they think need to be taken.

Chair of the Petitions Committee, Catherine McKinnell MP, said:

“I am extremely disappointed the Government hasn’t recognised the urgency of this issue and responded to our report on the impact of Covid-19 on maternity and parental leave before the summer recess. This is particularly so given the Prime Minister’s recent personal commitment to review our report.

“Parents coming to the end of their leave are faced with a dreadful dilemma of having to prepare to return to work while they try to ensure that their child’s social and developmental needs are being met, at a time when finding suitable childcare is nearly impossible.

“Our investigation found some parents have even had to give up their jobs because there has been no financially viable way to extend their leave. This is having a profound impact on the mental health and wellbeing of families. New parents need clarity now on what support the Government will provide for them in the midst of this pandemic – this can’t wait until the autumn.

“I implore the Government to act on our recommendations as a matter of urgency.”

The report forms part of the Committee’s inquiry into the Government’s response to coronavirus. It follows three evidence sessions over the last few months on the impacts the coronavirus crisis has had on maternity leave, maternal mental health, childcare, and adoption, where the Committee heard from parents who had been directly impacted by the outbreak, representatives of the childcare sector, mental health and psychology experts, and the Government.

Key findings and recommendations made in the Committee’s report include:

  1. New parents have missed out on crucial support, the lack of which could have a huge impact on their mental health and that of their children, with resulting impacts on the NHS and the UK economy
  2. The Government should extend parental leave and pay for all new parents affected by the pandemic. This includes maternity leave, shared parental leave and adoption leave
  3. The Government should publish clear new guidance for employees and employers on supporting pregnant employees and those returning from parental leave that explains clearly their options and responsibilities
  4. The Government should consider extending the period in which pregnant women and new parents may bring claims before the employment tribunal to 6 months from dismissal in light of current challenges posed by Covid-19
  5. Free dental care is an important benefit that most pregnant and new mothers have been unable to access as the result of the pandemic. The Government should extend maternity dentist provision for new and expectant mothers affected by the pandemic for at least six months
  6. The Government should review the provision of health visitor services in light of Covid-19 and consider funding increased numbers of health visitors and other allied professionals, to ensure that vulnerable families are identified and given the support they need
  7. The Committee strongly urges the Government to follow the science and stay alert to how the Government supports new parents so that the effects of the pandemic do not continue to impact families for years to come

Download the full report here.