The Chair of the Petitions Committee has criticised the Government for failing to act urgently to extend paid parental leave so that parents are not left without suitable childcare options.
The Government has been criticised for failing to respond urgently to a report on how new parents are supported during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Chair of the Petitions Committee, Catherine McKinnell criticised the Government for failing to meet the Committee’s request to respond urgently to its report on the impact of Covid-19 on maternity and parental leave which was published earlier in July.
In a letter from Paul Scully MP, Minister for Small Business, Consumers and Labour Markets, the Government stated that a response to the report from his department would not be possible before the House rose for Summer Recess on 22 July due to the need for careful consideration of recommendations and for discussions with counterparts in other relevant departments.
The publication of the Committee’s report on 6th July came after more than 226,000 people signed an e-petition calling for the Government to extend maternity leave by three months with pay in light of Covid-19. The Committee received over 69,000 responses to its online surveys and Facebook post, with people sharing their experiences and views on the Government’s response and on the actions they think need to be taken.
McKinnell said: “I am extremely disappointed the Government hasn’t recognised the urgency of this issue and responded to our report on the impact of Covid-19 on maternity and parental leave before the summer recess. This is particularly so given the Prime Minister’s recent personal commitment to review our report.
“Parents coming to the end of their leave are faced with a dreadful dilemma of having to prepare to return to work while they try to ensure that their child’s social and developmental needs are being met, at a time when finding suitable childcare is nearly impossible.
“Our investigation found some parents have even had to give up their jobs because there has been no financially viable way to extend their leave. This is having a profound impact on the mental health and wellbeing of families. New parents need clarity now on what support the Government will provide for them in the midst of this pandemic – this can’t wait until the autumn. I implore the Government to act on our recommendations as a matter of urgency.”
The report follows three evidence sessions over the last few months on the impacts the coronavirus crisis has had on maternity leave, maternal mental health, childcare, and adoption, where the Committee heard from parents who had been directly impacted by the outbreak, representatives of the childcare sector, mental health and psychology experts, and the Government.
The report recommended that the Government should extend parental leave and pay for all new parents affected by the pandemic, including maternity leave, shared parental leave and adoption leave and called on the Government to publish clear new guidance for employees and employers on supporting pregnant employees and those returning from parental leave that explains clearly their options and responsibilities.
It also said, among other recommendations, that the Government should consider extending the period in which pregnant women and new parents may bring claims before the employment tribunal to 6 months from dismissal in light of current challenges posed by Covid-19.