Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:40 pm on 11th February 2021.

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Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury) 2:40 pm, 11th February 2021

I too would like to start by congratulating the hon. Members for Enfield North (Feryal Clark) and for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) and Suella Braverman and wishing them all the very best in their pregnancies.

Like many others, I come to this Bill with a sense of frustration. The progress is welcome, but the Government have missed an opportunity to put many other things right. I would not argue for a second that Ministers should not get maternity leave, but the Bill does not go far enough. I agree with Christine Jardine that it should deal with, for example, adoption. It is also a bit of an insult to working parents across these islands, who have found their own maternity and paternity leave compromised during the pandemic. It is a sign that the Government move fast when they want to, but not for everybody who needs that.

At the start of the pandemic, I asked the Chancellor how he intended to protect the rights of those who were pregnant. Some had been asked to take statutory sick pay or holidays or to start their maternity leave earlier than they should, thereby losing out on time with their baby and on the pay they needed. When I raised the matter, a cloud of bemusement swept across the Treasury Bench. It was clear that it had not even occurred to Ministers. The account by Yvette Cooper shows that not much has changed when it comes to male Ministers not taking account of maternity.

Almost a year from the start of the pandemic, Pregnant Then Screwed has been forced to take the Government to judicial review to tackle what appears to me to be blatant discrimination in the calculation of the self-employment income support scheme. I wish Joeli Brearley and her team all the very best in their challenge, but it should not have come to this. The UK Government have repeatedly been told about the flaws in the scheme. As with so many other issues, they have chosen to ignore those flaws and the women who have been excluded from the support schemes and disadvantaged. They must take action to put that right, regardless of what happens with the judicial review. It is simply not fair that women are losing out because they took time out of their business to look after their babies.

Bethany Power has also found that women on furlough have been told that they will lose their accrued annual leave as part of what has happened to them. The Government must correct that as soon as possible, because it is simply not right that women are losing out on their holidays because of how things have been calculated.

NHS exemption certificates should be extended for 12 months, because women have not been able to access the dental care they would usually get in the year after having their baby. That unfairness must also be addressed. They have been not been able to access the service because in many cases, dental services have been suspended.

There are so many more things I could say about maternity provision in this country, and so much more needs to be done. Maternity Action has been campaigning for a very long time to get those issues addressed. The Government are letting women down. Maternity should be a special time they get to spend with their wee one. It should not be a time of stress, poverty and wondering how to make ends meet. Too many women are still losing their jobs and being failed by their employers, but are not able to challenge that because of the structures the Government have put in place.

I urge the Government to act now on all those issues, and take them as seriously as they are taking this one case for one Minister. They should ensure that nobody gets left behind when they take maternity leave.