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Early Years Family Support

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:36 pm on 16th July 2019.

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Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Chair, Women and Equalities Committee, Chair, Draft Domestic Abuse Bill (Joint) Committee 4:36 pm, 16th July 2019

I have very strong sympathies with that. It should happen by rote for every woman, and I think that it happens haphazardly now. I can remember having that sort of conversation with my GP after the birth of my children, but it does not happen routinely. The NCT is right to pick this up. If we are to ensure that early years family support is as good as it can be, it needs to include a mental health check for mums. All of us know individuals who have gone through post-natal depression. For the health of the mother as well as the children, it is so important that it is identified early on and action is taken.

As well as protecting mothers who are pregnant or have new babies, and as well as making sure that they get the right support from their GPs on mental health, the Government also need to reflect on a couple of other areas to make sure that our children have the best early years support possible. We heard about one of these earlier from my hon. Friend Helen Whately, who talked about flexible working. The Government have already heard an expert dissertation from her, so I will not repeat what she said. In summary, however, the more that we can give flexibility to families, particularly when they have very small children, but not solely then—I speak as the mother of a teenager, as my youngest is now—so that they can balance work and family life, the better. This goes on for our children’s entire lives, even beyond them being children, so I hope that the Government are making sure that they take very seriously flexibility and flexible working as a default, which my hon. Friend spoke about in relation to her ten-minute rule Bill.

No Government have gone further than this one and the coalition Government in making flexible working something that we can all now request. We will take no lessons from anybody about any lack of understanding from Government Members on that, and I commend the Government for all the work that they have done, but we now need to look at going further to make sure that businesses take that flexibility for granted. The best businesses already do, of course, but we need more to do it routinely.

My final point is on shared parental leave. If we are to get it really right for our littlest people—the half a million babies that are born every single year—we need to get it right for both parents. At the moment, we do not get it right for dads at all. All the research coming out of countries such as Germany shows that if we have proper shared parental leave, fathers and children have much better relationships not just in the early years, but throughout their lives, including even if the adult relationship with the other parent breaks down. It is absolutely proven that a shared parental leave policy involving fathers far more in the lives of their children at an early age can lead to far better relations later in life as well. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to consider very carefully the role of shared parental leave in future. My Committee—the Women and Equalities Committee—has done an excellent paper on it, which he can read at his leisure. It shows clearly that three months of “use it or lose it” leave for dads is one of the best ways that we can support family life and help to address the gender pay gap.

Those are just some other ideas, building on the debate secured by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire, on how we can make sure that every child in this country gets the best start in life and that every family can thrive.