The House of Commons Petitions Committee has expressed disappointment after ministers delivered a ‘hammer blow’ to new parents during the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic.
During the pandemic, the Committee held an intensive inquiry into the impact of COVID-19 on maternity and paternity leave, following an e-petition calling for the Government to extend maternity leave by 3 months with pay in light of Covid-19. The petition received over 226,000 signatures, while the Petitions Committee received over 69,000 responses to its attempts to explore the topic further through online surveys and posts on social media.
The petition said that extra paid leave should be granted to new parents in light of the lockdown, saying the time should be for “bonding and social engaging with other parents and babies through baby groups which are vital for development”.
Following the inquiry, which involved new parents, mental health and psychology experts amongst other people, the Committee produced a report with multiple recommendations, including a call for the Government to ‘reconsider its decision not to extend parental leave and pay for families during the Covid-19 pandemic.’
However, a response to the report from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has rejected most of the recommendations made by the Petitions Committee.
In the response, the Government said: “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.”
Paul Scully MP, Minister for Small Business, Consumers and Labour Markets, and Minister for London said the government was, however “sympathetic to the unusual, and frequently stressful, position that many people—including expectant and new parents—have found themselves in as a result of Covid-19 and lockdown and we hope that employers will encourage their staff to make full use of the suite of entitlements to time off work that is available to them.”
Despite rejecting multiple recommendations, the Government did agree to a recommendation of providing an update on their discussions with the baby group sector.
Chair of the Petitions Committee, Catherine McKinnell MP has said she is “extremely disappointed” at the Government’s reply to the report and said that the Committee will now push for a debate on the issue of extending maternity and paternity leave “as soon as possible”. Ms McKinnell 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 has investigated a number of other topics during lockdown, including the impact of COVID-19 on university students.
During lockdown, debates in Westminster Hall have not been taking place, however, it is believed that the use of the hall may begin again from next month, potentially allowing for a debate on the issue of maternity and paternity leave to take place.