Petitions Committee express disappointment as Ministers deliver ‘hammer blow’ to new parents in midst of Coronavirus

“This response simply fails to follow the science and will come as a hammer blow to new parents across the country who need real support now. The Petitions Committee will now push for a debate in Parliament on this as soon as possible.”

In official correspondence published this morning [Weds 09/09/20], the Government outlined their response to a landmark report from the Petitions Committee on the impact of COVID-19 on maternity and parental leave.

The report was the result of an intensive inquiry, following an e-petition calling for the Government to extend maternity leave by 3 months with pay in light of Covid-19 receiving over 226,000 signatures. The Committee received over 69,000 responses to its online surveys and Facebook post which were run to explore the scale and impact of the problem.

The inquiry involved new parents, mental health and psychology experts, and representatives from the childcare sector as the Committee investigated the impact of COVID-19 on maternity leave and associated issues including adoption and maternal mental health. The investigation revealed an urgent need for the Government to review how new parents are supported during the crisis after almost a quarter of a million petitioners raised concerns about the dangerous impact the pandemic is having on their children’s development and their own mental health.

The response, from the department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, rejects most of the recommendations of the Petitions Committee, stating “we believe that, for the vast majority of parents, the current arrangements have been sufficiently generous to cater for the variety of circumstances that new parents have found themselves in as a result of the pandemic.”

The Government did however agree to the Committee’s recommendation to provide an update on their discussions with the baby group sector, and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy indicated they were happy to host a meeting with groups in this sector to better understand how they can be supported to help parents return to work – particularly when parents have experienced mental health issues as a result of Covid-19 and lockdown.

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

“I am extremely disappointed at the Government’s reply to this report and their response to understandably anxious mothers and fathers across the country on this issue.

“In this response, the Government have not only outright rejected a plea for maternity leave to be extended amidst the pandemic, but have also turned down a whole range of entirely reasonable, and detailed, proposals that would have lessened the impact of this terrible pandemic on new parents.

“The notion that current Government support to new parents during the pandemic is sufficient, when a quarter of a million people affected have signed this parliamentary petition, ignores the distressing reality expressed by many.

“This response simply fails to follow the science, and will come as a hammer blow to new parents across the country who need real targeted support now.

“The Petitions Committee will now push for a debate on this issue as soon as possible. Members from across the House can put their concerns on this matter directly to the Government on behalf of petitioners.”

Since the House agreed on 19th March to suspend business in Westminster Hall on account of the COVID-19 outbreak and ensuing lockdown, there have been extremely limited opportunities for petitions that have each received more than 100,000 signatures to be debated by MPs. During this time the Committee have continued to hold the Government to account through virtual sessions, extensive surveys and public engagement, and correspondence.

With the Government intending to restore socially-distanced Westminster Hall debates in October, the Petitions Committee will schedule a debate on petitions requesting that maternity and parental leave be extended due to Covid-19 as a matter of urgency.

The full response to the Committee’s report is available here. attached. You can also read the Petitions Committee report on the impact of COVID-19 on maternity leave and new parents here.