Report calls for action on childcare and Covid-related parental leave issues

A new report calls for urgent action to help new and expectant parents navigate Covid-19, including extending parental leave and clarifying the rules on furlough.

A woman sits at her desk with hand sanitiser and face mask in the foreground


The Government needs to reconsider its decision not to extend parental leave and pay for families during the Covid-19 pandemic and launch an urgent short-term review of funding for the childcare sector to
ensure that it survives the current crisis, according to a parliamentary committee.

The Petitions Committee reports says that, if required, the Government should provide emergency
funding to the childcare sector to ensure that there are sufficient childcare places for parents due to return to work. It also calls on the Government to consider launching an independent review of childcare provision “to ensure that future Government funding is effective and that the sector is sustainable and works for all in the long term”.

In addition, it says that the Government should extend redundancy protection as soon as possible and provide a timetable for its introduction and implementation so that mothers in particular do not get worst hit by redundancies.

The report covers pregnancy, parental leave pay and new parents. On parental leave pay, it calls for the Government to urgently consider whether Maternity Allowance should be viewed as earnings in the same way as Statutory Maternity Pay and should not lead to deductions from Universal Credit and says that there should be clearer guidance on using furlough for those coming back from parental leave.

It adds that the Government should amend the Statutory Maternity Pay calculations to disregard periods of lower income because their employers have failed to follow the Government’s guidance on how pregnant women should be treated and, for example, put them on sick pay when they should have been suspended on full pay because they could not work due to the coronavirus pandemic.

For self employed parents, it recommends that the Government amend the terms of the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme to take into account periods of maternity and parental leave to avoid discriminating against new parents.

Furlough clarification

The report says furlough is not realistic for many new parents as the rules exclude many. It relies on employers agreeing to it, parents are not eligible if their employer has not yet furloughed others, if they work in the public sector or if their employer needs people back at work. Even for those who can access it, the report says the Government has failed to make it clear to them and their employers that it is an option. It calls on the Government to publish clear new guidance for employees and employers, including dedicated pages on GOV.UK, on supporting employees returning from parental leave that explains clearly their options and responsibilities.

In addition, the report addresses the need for full-scale review of parental leave pay, saying inequalities have built up over time, for instance, around provisions for neonatal leave; self-employed adoptive parents and special guardians. It says benefits for self-employed adoptive parents should be equalised to those of other self-employed parents, and parental leave and pay provisions should be extended to special guardians.


On pregnant women, it recommends that the Government publish clear guidance for employers on their obligations in respect of pregnant woman who cannot safely socially distance at work, including making clear that pregnant women have a right to be suspended on full pay if they cannot work safely. It also recommends that the Government extend the furlough scheme to include all pregnant women, so that an additional safety net is available to both pregnant women and their employers.

The report also recommends that the Government considers extending the period in which pregnant women and new parents may bring claims before the employment tribunal to six months from dismissal on a temporary or permanent basis in light of current challenges posed by Covid-19.

Other recommendations include that:

  • The Government should review the provision of health visitor services in light of Covid-19 and consider funding increased numbers of health visitors and other allied professionals to ensure that vulnerable families are identified and given the support they need
  • The Government should fund and provide additional professional and mental health support especially targeted at new parents and their children
  • The Government should extend adoption leave and pay for adoptive parents who have been affected by the pandemic for three months
  • In advance of the planned delivery of neonatal leave and pay in 2023, the Government should pilot the introduction of these reforms for those affected by the Covid-19 outbreak. If a success, the date of the general introduction of these measures could be brought forward.
  • The Government should capture data on the uptake of parental leave, as well as pay, so that any future review of parental leave arrangements can consider the extent to which parents from all groups are able to use their entitlements.

Meanwhile,  Maria Miller MP, former chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, who is presenting a Bill this week pushing for greater rights for pregnant women and new mums says they need “German-style protection…giving them automatic protection from redundancy during pregnancy and for six months after”.

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