MPs have passed the Government’s Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill, with Labour saying that it wants to see action taken on pregnancy and maternity discrimination in return for backing the Bill.
MPs have passed a Bill to accelerate changes to the maternity law to allow the Attorney General Suella Braverman to take six months’ maternity leave.
Braverman announced in November that she was expecting her second child “early next year”. Under current laws, she would have to resign if she wanted to take time off following the birth. But the Government has announced a new law to formalise the process for ministerial maternity leave, which until now has been at the discretion of the prime minister. The Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill, which was rushed through, allows cabinet ministers the right to receive up to six months’ leave on full pay, at the Prime Minister’s discretion, but will not apply to many other MPs. Labour MP Stella Creasy, who is pregnant, is reported to be considering taking legal action on the grounds that it is discriminatory and campaigners say there are fears that the Bill could set a precedent for two-tier system of maternity and paternity rights.
Labour said that it would support the Bill as long as there is action on pregnancy and maternity discrimination. There are fears that the situation for pregnant women and those returning from maternity leave has worsened during Covid with many having been made redundant. Theresa May’s Government said it would like to see protections from redundancy tightened, but legislation has been delayed.
Caroline Nokes, chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, said she would like to see the Bill extended to Shared Parental Leave and adoption leave.
Parental leave campaigners also argue that the Government needs to reform parental leave for everyone, arguing that the UK’s maternity leave may be longer than many countries, but the statutory rate – which accounts for 33 of the 39 weeks of Statutory Maternity Pay and the entirety of Maternity Allowance – is among the lowest in Europe.
Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, said: “The UK’s parental leave system is not fit for purpose, genuine flexible working is still unavailable to millions and quality childcare is hard to find and unaffordable for many.”
They also say the time is ripe for changing the law on Shared Parental Leave which has had a very low uptake and which many workers are not eligible for. Under SPL the mother has to end her maternity leave to allow the father to take SPL. Campaigners such as the Fawcett Society would like to see a period of non-transferable parental leave for fathers, such as is popular in Sweden. They argue that there is a close link between greater equality at home and in the workplace.
Progressive employers including Aviva have reformed their parental leave policies, allowing mums and dads to take up to six months’ paid leave after their baby is born with high take-up rates. Insurance firm Zurich has also noted a significant increase in women applying for senior roles at the company after it equalised its parental leave policies.