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Committee express disappointment at Government response to its report on impact of Covid-19 on maternity and parental leave

9 September 2020

Today, the Government gave their response to the Petitions Committee’s landmark report on the impact of COVID-19 on maternity and parental leave.

The report was the result of an extensive inquiry following an e-petition calling for the Government to extend maternity leave by 3 months with pay in light of Covid-19 which received over 226,000 signatures. The Committee also received over 69,000 responses to its online surveys and Facebook posts which were run to explore the extent and impact of the pandemic on new parents.

The inquiry involved new parents, mental health and psychology experts, and representatives from the childcare sector. The investigation revealed an urgent need for the Government to 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.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s response 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's comments

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.”

There have been extremely limited opportunities for petitions that have each received more than 100,000 signatures to be debated by MPs, since the House of Commons decided to close Westminster Hall due to COVID-19 restrictions. The Committee has 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 has agreed to debate petitions requesting that maternity and parental leave be extended due to Covid-19 on Monday 5 October. The re-opening of Westminster Hall for debates is subject to the agreement of the House of Commons so this date is subject to change.

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