The impact of Covid-19 on maternity and parental leave Contents


1.We have received an unprecedented number of petitions since the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak. With the suspension of petition debates in Westminster Hall due to social distancing measures, we have focused our efforts on identifying issues that may have been overlooked by the Government in its response to the crisis and which are not being looked at in other ways by Parliament. The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on new parents and their children has so far not been given as much attention as it should have been and we are hugely grateful to the petitioners for bringing this important issue to the attention of Parliament and Government.

Box 2: What is a Select Committee Report?

For many people reading this report, this might be the first time you’ve followed the work of a House of Commons Select Committee. We wanted to explain how this report was written, what you can find in it, and what happens next.

House of Commons Select Committees, cross-party groups of MPs, publish reports that call on the Government to take action on a huge range of subjects. Before a Committee publishes a report it will usually have conducted an inquiry into this issue. They will have asked people to give their views (submitting written evidence) and invited some people to speak directly to the Committee (giving oral evidence).

Lots of inquiries, like this one, will have also asked people to take part in other ways, like completing a survey or commenting on an online thread, to make sure their views are heard. Because we heard from so many people, we haven’t been able to include every comment we received, but we’ve included a summary of all our public engagement at the end of this report, and you can find our written evidence and transcripts of our oral evidence on the Committee’s website.1

Once a Committee has concluded its inquiry, it will publish a report like this one. The report will try to include as much of the evidence the Committee has received as possible and use this to draw conclusions and make recommendations. This report has several chapters that look at different aspects of parental leave and being a new parent, and different types of people who have been affected by the current situation.

You can find the Committee’s conclusions (what the Committee thinks) and recommendations (what the Committee thinks the Government should do) in a summary near the end of this report. You’ll also find these conclusions and recommendations throughout the report. Within the report conclusions are in bold text and the recommendations are in bold italic text, to help make them easy to find.

This report has made lots of recommendations to the Government about what it should do to help support new parents. The next step is for the Government to read our report, consider our conclusions and decide whether to accept our recommendations or take other action. The Government will send the Committee its response, which we’ll then publish and consider further action. The Government has two months to do this, but we know that this is an urgent issue affecting many parents, so we have asked them to respond much sooner than that.

The Petition

2.The petition which prompted our investigation of the impact of Covid-19 on maternity and parental leave was started on by James Zammit-Garcia and his wife Jessie Zammit on 20 April 2020.2 The petition reads:

Extend maternity leave by 3 months with pay in light of COVID-19

In light of the recent outbreak and lockdown, those on maternity leave should be given 3 extra months paid leave, at least. This time is for bonding and social engaging with other parents and babies through baby groups which are vital for development and now everything has been cancelled.

These groups are vital for baby development, bonding and educating both babies and parents. Given that the government have closed down many areas of the community, new parents and babies are confined to their homes with no social interaction which will ultimately impact on the development of children.

We are calling on Boris Johnson and the government to extend paid maternity leave by an additional 3 months, at least to allow for this development and bonding to take place.

The petition is still open for signatures but at the time of publication it had received more than 226,000 signatures.

The Government’s response

3.The Government provided a written response to the petition on 14 May 2020. In its response, the Government stated that the UK’s maternity leave was “already amongst the most generous in the world” and said that it had no plans to extend it. It spoke about the job retention (furlough) scheme and that it had ensured that pregnant women on furlough continued to have their Statutory Maternity Pay calculated on their normal earnings, rather than the reduced amount. The Government also stated that it was “possible for employers to offer furlough pay at the end of a woman’s maternity leave and pay period, in effect extending the period a woman is away from work.”. This is an option that we discovered was rarely offered and, despite a welcome recent extension, is no longer available for the majority of those returning to work in the coming weeks and months. In response to the points about baby groups, the Government responded that it was “regrettable but necessary to help safeguard the health of individuals, including other new mothers and babies.”3

The inquiry

4.This inquiry was led by our petitioners and the wider public. We are hugely grateful to Jessie and James, who started the petition and are parents to baby Elliot. We’d also like to thank Bethany Power, mum to baby Jayden, who also petitioned and campaigned on this issue and gave evidence to us. We prioritised finding out more about why people signed this petition and supported the call for extended maternity leave, and sought the views of the public. This inquiry has seen a record number of people take part in our public engagement: 27,000 new parents responded to our first survey. We received a record 26,000 comments to our Facebook thread, and 16,000 responses to further surveys. We are grateful to everyone who got in touch with us and contributed to our public engagement, which informed every step of our work on this issue.

The aim of the inquiry

5.The role of the Petitions Committee is to hold the Government to account on behalf of petitioners. We recognise the huge task that the Government has as we navigate our way through this pandemic and beyond. While it is inevitable that in such extreme circumstances important issues are sometimes overlooked, in conducting this inquiry we are offering the Government an opportunity to look again at the treatment of maternity and parental leave and bring forward changes that will benefit new parents, children and businesses. It would irresponsible for the Government to respond to this report without seriously examining the evidence that we’ve received during this inquiry.

6.In addition to exploring the impact of Covid-19 on maternity and parental leave, our inquiry has also identified a number of issues regarding existing entitlements to parental leave and pay, and the childcare sector. We have therefore also highlighted areas where action would be helpful to address inconsistencies and ensure a viable childcare sector.

1 Petitions Committee, The Government’s response to Coronavirus, HC 252 (2019–21)

3 Government response to e-petition 306691, Extend maternity leave by 3 months with pay in light of COVID-19

Published: 6 July 2020