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The Petitions Committee has expressed extreme disappointment in the Government’s response to its report calling for urgent changes to parental leave in light of Covid-19.
The Government has been criticised for its response to a Parliamentary report on how new parents are supported during the coronavirus pandemic.
The report by the Petitions Committee was the result of an intensive inquiry, following an e-petition calling for the Government to extend maternity leave by three 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 committee says 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 report’s recommendations, 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 would 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 push for an urgent debate on this issue as soon as possible.