The impact of Covid-19 on maternity and parental leave: Government falls short

Today, the Government responded to the Petitions Committee’s landmark report on the impact of Covid-19 on maternity and parental leave.

The report follows an extensive inquiry after an e-petition that called for the Government to extend maternity leave by 3 months with pay in light of Covid-19. The petition received over 226,000 signatures.

The inquiry took advice and guidance from new parents, mental health and psychology experts, and representatives from the childcare sector. It revealed that the Government needed to urgently review how new parents are supported, after almost a quarter of a million petitioners raised concerns about the pandemic’s dangerous impact on their children’s development and their own mental health.

However, the Government’s response was as follows:

‘With regard to the recommendation that relates to the subject matter of the petition, having carefully considered the evidence that is available, we are still not persuaded that there is a need to extend entitlements to paid Maternity Leave at this time. There are a number of reasons for this, the most pertinent of which is that we still believe that the current arrangements for Maternity Leave and Pay are sufficiently generous to cater for a wide variety of circumstances that expectant and new mothers may find themselves in—including during lockdown.’

Commenting, Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, said: 

It’s incredibly disappointing – and frankly, insulting to the many thousands of parents who signed the petition on parental leave – that the government has seen fit to issue such a dismissive response to the Petitions Committee’s important report.

‘New parents have been almost entirely overlooked during this period and the government’s decision not to extend parental leave or take any definitive action to ensure that those on leave are adequately supported, is wholly indefensible.

‘Worst still, the government has disregarded the many other very valid recommendations made by the committee, including the call to ensure that the childcare sector is adequately funded in the short- and long-term to ensure that those parents who want to return to work are able to do so.

‘We welcome the Committee’s decision to schedule this issue for a Parliamentary debate and hope the government will take the opportunity to rethink this decision and ensure that parents of young children get the support they need during this incredibly difficult time.’

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