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Petition Extend paid maternity leave by at least four months

The Government should give anyone who is on maternity leave the right to at least four months additional leave, at full pay, because of the impact Covid-19 has had on new mothers and their children.

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Government responded

This response was given on 26 January 2021

Government has no plans to extend paid Maternity Leave. Existing Maternity Leave entitlements are among the most generous in the world, up to 52 weeks of leave are available of which 39 are paid.

The Government recognises that new parents have faced new challenges in welcoming a child into their family during these unprecedented times. Maternity entitlements are provided to enable employed women to take time off work in the later stages of their pregnancy and after they have given birth in the interests of their own health and that of their unborn child or new baby. The UK’s Maternity Leave offer is already amongst the most generous in the world – up to 52 weeks of leave are available, 39 weeks of which are paid. The Government has previously responded to petition 306691, which sought to extend paid Maternity Leave by 3 months, and made clear then that there are no plans to extend maternity entitlements at the current time. Extending paid Maternity Leave would have significant costs to the Exchequer and employers.

We have put in place various measures to make things easier for parents and their employers in these challenging times including publishing clear guidance for:

• employees and employers on how to support parents returning from parental leave; and
• employers on their obligations regarding pregnant women who cannot safely socially distance at work.

We have also:

• made sure that childcare is available for parents returning to work (Early Years settings -including nurseries and childminders - remain open); and
• enabled employers to furlough parents who are unable to work due to childcare commitments.

We have put financial support for employees and businesses at the heart of the Government response to the pandemic. This has included the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme, and a package of welfare measures which the Office of Budget Responsibility estimates to be worth over £9bn. These measures have helped to protect incomes, jobs, and support those most in need.

The Government encourages employers to be as flexible as possible during this difficult time, to support those with childcare responsibilities. This includes:

• providing flexible working and home working arrangements; and
• considering requests from parents to be furloughed (which is at the employer’s discretion).

We understand that the experience of Maternity Leave during the pandemic may not have been what some pregnant women and new mothers were expecting. But we have necessarily had to introduce measures to help save lives and protect our NHS. To mitigate the impact of these measures on individuals we have:

• introduced support bubbles for people living on their own and for households of any size with a child under 1 or a child under 5 with a disability;
• introduced childcare support bubbles which enable parents to link up with one other household to allow friends or family to provide informal childcare to anyone under 14;
• allowed support groups for parents and children to continue in person;
• worked with representatives from the parent and child group sector to put guidelines in place to enable the sector to reopen when measures are eased;
• increased funding for mental health services; and
• ensured health visiting services could continue.

In addition, children under 5 are not counted towards the gatherings’ limit for exercising outside.

Health visitors continue to be the key link between the healthcare system and vulnerable under 1s and their families. General practice nurses have also continued to provide routine childhood immunisations. Whilst some public health nurses were redeployed at the onset of Covid-19, this was a temporary measure and we were able to offer a full service by the end of July 2020. The Chief Nurse and the Local Government Association have confirmed that Health Visitors will not be redeployed during the second wave. Local Authorities have been given more than £3 billion this financial year to commission public health services, including services for new parents and their babies.

The Government is committed to improving perinatal mental health services for new mothers and their partners. In November 2020, we brought forward the Wellbeing and Mental Health Support Plan for Covid-19, backed by £50 million, to set out the support available for individuals in the context of a second wave, and the winter months. This includes an additional £500 million in 2021/22 (announced in the Spending Review), to address waiting times for mental health services; give more people the mental health support they need; and invest in the NHS workforce.

The measures set out above were developed as part of the Government’s response to the pandemic and are in line with a number of the recommendations made by the Petitions Select Committee. The Government is committed to supporting all citizens, including parents, during this difficult time.

Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

At 100,000 signatures...

At 100,000 signatures, this petition will be considered for debate in Parliament

Other parliamentary business

MPs press the Government to address gaps in support for new mothers in new report

In their latest report, released on 26 February, MPs on the House of Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee have recommended that the Government reviews the coverage of current Covid-19 support, including the furlough and SEISS schemes, to make sure that the greatest support is provided to those individuals facing most hardship, including new mothers, and that any gaps in provision are addressed. The Committee expects to see such measures in the upcoming Budget.

Read the report: https://committees.parliament.uk/publications/4831/documents/48550/default/

Referencing the Petitions Committee's report on the Impact of Covid-19 on maternity and parental leave, the BEIS Committee report describes mothers being discriminated against by virtue of having taken parental leave in the last three years as being a "particularly egregious example of the (Government's) failure to refine support".

Read the Petitions Committee's report on the Impact of Covid-19 on maternity and parental leave: https://committees.parliament.uk/publications/1759/documents/17170/default/
Read the Government's response to our report: https://committees.parliament.uk/publications/2186/documents/24746/default/

What is the BEIS Committee?

The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee is a cross-party group of backbench MPs appointed to scrutinise the policy, spending and administration of the Government's Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and its public bodies, including Ofgem, the Financial Reporting Council and the Committee on Climate Change.

Follow the BEIS Committee on Twitter for real-time updates on its work: https://twitter.com/CommonsBEIS

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