Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:44 pm on 11th February 2021.

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Photo of Cat Smith Cat Smith Shadow Minister for Young People and Voter Engagement 2:44 pm, 11th February 2021

I thank my hon. Friend for that and for her support when I was expecting. It just goes to show that this is a debate that has had to come forward in baby steps. If we have learnt anything from the covid-19 crisis, it is that acting at a point of emergency is no way of bringing about good governance. With more lead-in time and perhaps more detailed consultation, this Bill could have included the right to paternity, adoption and premature baby leave. Although I welcome the Government’s commitment to bring about these changes, I am disappointed that we are unable to make those significant strides forward today and I look forward to working with the Government on bringing them about in the future.

As the Centenary Action Group highlighted, this legislation must not be seen in a vacuum but instead as an opportunity for a call to action to protect parents in the workplace in these difficult times. In particular, covid-19 has already disrupted mothers’ careers more than fathers’ careers, with nearly 70% of women with children likely to have quit their jobs due to not being able to balance childcare and work, which compares with 16% of fathers. Women are more likely to be working in shut-down sectors, to have been furloughed and to have taken on more caring responsibilities while working from home. Citizens Advice has reported worrying cases of women being selected for redundancy due to the stringent health and safety measures required to keep them in work. We know that women, particularly black, Asian and minority ethnic women and disabled women, are over-represented in precarious labour, including part-time and zero-hours contracts, leaving them more vulnerable to redundancy. It is disappointing that the Government have yet to act on their commitment in the December 2019 Queen’s Speech to strengthen the legal protection against redundancy for pregnant women and new parents. I would be grateful if in her closing remarks the Minister provided an update on the employment Bill.

Following the announcement by the Prime Minister and the chief medical officer last March that pregnant women are clinically vulnerable, employers unable to make the necessary changes to ensure workplace safety were required to send them home on full pay, but we know that many pregnant women were unlawfully put on statutory sick pay, which has affected their maternity pay and other entitlements. I hope the Minister will address that in her closing remarks, and that she will confirm that the Government are committed to cross-party working to fill the gaps that remain in the Bill. Indeed, the Bill is already out of date, given that it does not include paternity, adoption or shared parental leave. Their inclusion would add great value to the legislation. Will the Minister also commit to working with me and my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow on a wider discussion about the difficulty facing pregnant MPs, as well as councillors and representatives in the devolved bodies?

Turning to the wider situation of pregnant women across the country, the speed at which the Government are acting to make sure that the Attorney General can rightly take maternity leave is in stark contrast to their failure to support pregnant women facing discrimination and hardship throughout the pandemic. Will the Minister update the House on the Government’s progress in providing vital protections for pregnant women at work?