Impact of Covid-19 on new parents: one year on Contents


The impact of Covid-19 on maternity and parental leave

1.In the early stages of the covid-19 pandemic, we identified the pandemic’s impact on new parents and their children as an issue that had been overlooked in the Government’s response to the crisis. This was highlighted in e-petition 306691,1 created by James Zammit-Garcia and Jessie Zammit, which called for a 3-month paid extension to maternity leave during the pandemic and was signed by over 238,000 people before closing in October 2020. We took evidence and conducted public engagement on the proposal to extend maternity leave and related issues including employment protections and access to childcare. This culminated in the publication of our report The impact of Covid-19 on maternity and parental leave on 6 July 2020.2

2.Our report examined a range of issues including: entitlements to parental leave and pay; the pandemic’s impact on support services for new parents and the experience of becoming a new parent; access to childcare; and returning to work after parental leave. We found that during the first lockdown in spring 2020, new parents missed out on crucial support, with potentially harmful long-term consequences for parents’ wellbeing and their children’s development. We also raised concerns that many employers had not met their health and safety duties towards pregnant women over this period.

3.We made 22 recommendations, including calling for an extension to paid maternity and parental leave during the pandemic, catch-up funding to help new parents access informal and professional support that was disrupted during the pandemic, and additional legal protections for new and expectant mothers at work. A full list of our previous recommendations is included as an annex to this report.3

Government response

4.We received the Government’s response to our report on 7 September 2020.4 The response, which was coordinated by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy but covered the work of multiple departments, expressed sympathy with the “unusual and frequently stressful” position that expectant and new parents had found themselves in due to the pandemic. However, the Government rejected nearly all of our recommendations, arguing that “for the vast majority of parents, the current arrangements have been sufficiently generous to cater for the variety of circumstances that new parents have found themselves in as a result of the pandemic.”

5.Since receiving the Government response, we have continued to pursue the issues raised in our report. The Chair of the Committee has questioned the Prime Minister about issues raised by the report at Liaison Committee hearings5 and we have written to government departments to ask for changes and clarifications to the Government’s covid-19 guidance as it has continued to evolve.6

The continuing challenges faced by new and expectant parents

6.Since we published our report last summer, both the overall context of the pandemic and the challenges and restrictions facing new and expectant parents have changed substantially. Most significantly, we have seen the rollout of safe and effective vaccines, which has allowed many restrictions to be lifted as of July this year.7 For new and expectant parents specifically, local restrictions on visitors and birth partners in hospitals and maternity units have been relaxed in many areas, while Government guidance has allowed childcare settings to remain open since June 2020—including during subsequent lockdowns—and provided exemptions from some restrictions on gatherings for support groups and parent and baby groups.

7.However, we have continued to receive petitions highlighting the difficulties new parents and the services they rely on have continued to face over this period. These have included calls for extensions to paid maternity leave8 and maternity exemption certificates,9 a review into childcare funding and affordability,10 additional funding for health visiting services,11 and emergency financial support for parent and baby groups12 and wraparound care providers.13 Even with the removal of many covid-19 legal restrictions, it is clear that the pandemic’s impact is still being felt by new and expectant parents, and that the Government must continue to consider how best to support this group.

8.Our inquiry last year established that the experience of the pandemic, and the associated restrictions, would have long-term and potentially significant effects on the wellbeing of new parents and their children’s development. We concluded that this would require sustained attention from the Government over many years to help manage—but that swift and decisive intervention could help mitigate the worst possible consequences. We were therefore greatly concerned by the Government’s failure to grasp this need for rapid, targeted action to support this cohort of new parents in its response to our recommendations last year.

9.In light of this continued need for support, together with the Government’s failure to act on the scale we believe necessary over the past year, we returned to this issue. We held an evidence session in July 2021 where we heard from petitioners, representatives of parental groups and sectoral experts. We also conducted further public engagement, surveying over 8,700 new parents and childcare providers. We are enormously grateful to everyone who took the time to complete our survey, to the witnesses we heard from in our evidence session and to everyone who has started and signed petitions on this issue.

10.This report presents the findings from our work, together with our updated recommendations for action and investment by the Government. Our recommendations reflect the ongoing need to support new parents—both immediately and into the longer term—by tackling issues we identified in our report last year which remain unresolved, as well as addressing new issues which have emerged in the past 12 months.

2 Petitions Committee, First Report of Session 2019–21, The impact of Covid-19 on maternity and parental leave, HC 526

3 See Annex: Recommendations from July 2020 report

4 Petitions Committee, Second Special Report of Session 2019–21, The impact of COVID-19 on maternity and parental leave: Government Response to the Committee’s First Report, HC 770

7 However, the Government has indicated it will reserve the option to reimpose measures such as asking people to work from home this autumn and winter, if it judges these necessary to prevent unsustainable pressure on the NHS. See: HC Deb, 14 September 2021, col 811

Published: 7 October 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement