Government accused of ‘turning a blind eye’ to new parents’ needs

Parliament’s Petitions Committee has called the Government’s response to its report on new parents’ needs in the wake of Covid ‘troubling’.

Premature baby in hospital

 

The Government continues to ‘turn a blind eye’ to the needs of new parents after Covid, including stronger employment protections for new mothers and the extension of parental leave and pay entitlements to all new parents and guardians, according to Parliament’s Petitions Committee.

The Committee today publishes the Government’s response to its inquiry into the issue with its own comments on it. The Committee’s report, “Impact of Covid-19 on new parents: one year on”, was published in October 2021, and followed its inquiry and first report in 2020 into the impact of covid-19 on new parents. That inquiry was launched after an e-petition created at the start of the pandemic – ‘Extend maternity leave by 3 months with pay in light of COVID-19’ – received 238,884 signatures.

In July 2021, a year on from the publication of its first report, the Committee took further evidence from campaigners and experts to assess progress against the recommendations made in the report. The Committee also conducted a survey and online engagement, which received over 8,700 responses from new parents and childcare providers. Among its key findings, 77% of new parents said that “the cost of childcare has prevented me from getting the kind of childcare I need”, and 93% disagreed that they had been able to access crucial baby and toddler groups over the previous 12 months.

The Committee’s 2021 report recommended that the Government publish a dedicated Covid-19 recovery strategy for new parents, bringing together all Government actions to support this group, with a clear delivery plan.

The Government’s response points to the £500 million investment announced in the 2021 Autumn Spending Review for family and early years services. The Committee says this goes some way to addressing the ‘baby blind spot’ in Covid-19 recovery spending identified in the Committee’s report, but it contains no new commitments in response to the concerns raised and recommendations made in the report.

The response also:

  • Fails to commit dedicated catch-up funding to deal with the backlog in parental mental health and health visiting services highlighted in the Committee’s report.
  • Repeats the Government’s commitment, originally given in its response to the Committee’s first report on this issue, to strengthening redundancy protections for new and expectant mothers, but again fails to set a timetable for doing so.
  • Rejects the call, backed by more than 113,000 petitioners, for an independent review into the funding and affordability of childcare.

The response also rejects the Committee’s recommendation that entitlements to employment leave and financial support for new parents be extended to groups that currently don’t have access to these, including self-employed adoptive parents. The Committee has scheduled a debate on support for new adoptive parents, which was prompted by the e-petition, ‘Make self-employed people eligible for statutory adoption pay’, in Westminster Hall on 14th March.

Catherine McKinnell, Chair of the Petitions Committee, said: “Although most restrictions have now been lifted, the pandemic’s impact will continue to be felt for years to come – especially by new parents, for whom help was cut off when they most needed it.

“The investment in family services in last Autumn’s Spending Review was welcome. But the Government’s failure to provide new catch-up funding for health visiting and parental mental health leaves new parents facing an accumulation of adversity without the support they deserve.

“The Government’s failure to make progress on stronger employment protections for new mothers, which it promised in its response to our previous report, is particularly troubling. Its continued refusal to extend parental leave and pay entitlements to all new parents and guardians is equally concerning.

“This response is all the more disappointing as it is the second time the Government has turned a blind eye to the impacts we have highlighted. This continued lack of action means new parents’ needs will continue to go unrecognised and unmet, with long-term consequences for their wellbeing and their babies’ health and development.”

Neil Leitch of the Early Years Alliance said: “While the government continues to argue that the number of early years places available across the country has remained broadly stable over recent years, the fact remains that there are huge regional disparities, with some areas seeing as much as a 25% fall in places over the past six years.

“If the government is truly committed to supporting children and families to access quality, affordable care and early education, it will invest what’s needed to ensure that our vital sector is able to deliver it. Anything less is simply a recipe for disaster.”



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