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6 July, 2020 Open access

Government should extend parental leave and pay for all new parents affected by COVID-19 pandemic, says Select Committee

Committee says government needs to 'follow the science and stay alert' to the support needs of new parents if it is to avoid the effects of the pandemic continuing to impact on families for years to come

The government should extend parental leave and pay for all new parents affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, a Select Committee of MPs has said.

In a new report, The impact of Covid-19 on maternity and parental leave, the House of Commons Petitions Committee - whose role is to hold the government to account on behalf of petitioners - highlights that, while many people have benefited from the government’s coronavirus support schemes to help them through the pandemic, the evidence it has received has shown that many new parents still face a very difficult situation.

NB - the Committee's interest in this area was prompted by an e-petition calling for the government to extend paid maternity leave by 3 months in light of COVID-19 that, to date, has been signed by more than 225,000 people. While the government provided a written response to the petition on 14 May 2020, the Committee reports that -

'The Government has said that it feels the current entitlement is sufficiently generous and does not see any reason to extend it.'

In addition, despite 'compelling evidence' of the hardship being faced by new parents, the Committee says that many were 'incredulous' that, after its evidence session on 11 June 2020, Business Minister Paul Scully tweeted to say he still disagreed.

As a result, the Committee calls on the government to 'follow the science and stay alert' so that the effects of the pandemic don't continue to impact families, possibly for years to come, and amongst its recommendations says that -

'The Government should extend parental leave and pay for all new parents affected by the pandemic. This includes maternity leave, shared parental leave and adoption leave. If it will not do so, then it must look at new ways - such as the introduction of a hardship grant - for those who are forced to take unpaid leave to care for children, particularly heavily affected groups including parents of premature and sick babies; adoptive parents; single parents; and those who have been identified as suffering from mental health problems as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak.'

Noting also that the government is announcing changes to the lockdown and its support schemes almost every day, the Committee says that each day that new parents wait for further support is a day of anxiety, and that -

'While the Government normally responds to Select Committee reports within two months of publication, new parents cannot wait this long for the help they so urgently need. We urge the Government to respond as quickly as possible to the recommendations in this report and respond in full before the House of Commons rises for the summer.'

NB - elsewhere in its report, the Committee also says that -

The Committee's report The impact of Covid-19 on maternity and parental leave is available from parliament.uk