Tuesday 22nd March 2022

(3 months, 2 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall
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18:07
Kirsten Oswald Portrait Kirsten Oswald (East Renfrewshire) (SNP)
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I beg to move,

That this House has considered parental leave and pay.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mrs Miller. Among OECD countries, the UK has the second lowest payment rates for maternity leave, which is something the TUC has regularly highlighted. Less than a third of gross average earnings are replaced by maternity pay, and despite lengthy maternity leave entitlements, full-time equivalent paid maternity leave lasts for only 12 weeks.

In 2020, the Petitions Committee recommended that the treatment of maternity allowance and statutory maternity pay in universal credit should be equalised. At present, recipients of universal credit awarded maternity allowance end up no better off, because of a pound-for-pound clawback. Under the tax credit regime that universal credit replaced, maternity allowance was disregarded in full in calculating awards, as statutory maternity pay is now.

Not surprisingly, figures obtained by Maternity Action under freedom of information provisions show a drop of 45% between 2016 and 2021 in the number of employed parents who claim maternity allowance. In fact, up to 85,000 parents have been denied maternity support as a result of Conservative Government policy, and the Department for Work and Pensions has been asked today, in a letter signed by Maternity Action, the Fawcett Society, the National Childbirth Trust and the Women’s Budget Group, to assess the reasons for this 45% fall.

In 2020, the New Economics Foundation found that self-employed people take just six weeks of parental leave and that one in six take no days of parental leave at all. That same year, the Petitions Committee recommended that parental benefits available to self-employed birth parents should be extended to self-employed adoptive parents, and that parental leave and pay should be offered to special guardians. In 2021, the Women and Equalities Committee urged the UK Government to extend redundancy protection to pregnant women and new mothers in this parliamentary Session. However, we are still waiting.

If the UK Government were serious about supporting parents and tackling child poverty, they would address this issue. They would address the exclusion of so many families from the protection and support that they need to give their children the best start in life. Instead, not only do we have seafarers who appear to enjoy none of the protections of UK employment laws but we have delivery drivers, taxi drivers, catering and retail workers, and so many other people whose employment rights are being rolled back to the 19th century.

I pay particular tribute to the work of the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain, which has highlighted the position of taxi drivers, whose contracts are often deactivated by web-based employers without due process. The union very reasonably asks how drivers can enforce rights to parental leave and pay, or tackle pregnancy and maternity discrimination, if the laws on which their contracts rest are so grossly unfair. That is where a Parliament should step in but, unlike other countries, the UK has continued to dither and delay. The Prime Minister promised an employment Bill to address fears that workers’ rights would be watered down post Brexit, so I have to ask the Minister, where is the employment Bill? When will we see it?

I commend the work of Maternity Action in this field. It presented an action plan to end pregnancy and maternity discrimination at work to the UK Government. That was endorsed by a wide range of organisations and trade unions. I am keen to hear from the Minister why Maternity Action has been removed from the pregnancy and maternity discrimination advisory board—for what looks to me simply like revealing that it continues to support the aims of its action plan.

One of the questions facing us today is whether P&O’s sacking of 800 workers and the hustling of many of them out of their workplace has been a wake-up call on employment matters for the UK Government. Will the Minister restate his commitment to an employment Bill, or will we see expectant and new parents become just the latest group of workers to be thrown under the Brexit bus? In contrast to that, the SNP Scottish Government are committed to delivering fair work where they have the opportunity to do so. They are doing everything they can to support parents through that challenging time and beyond.

The reality is, however, that employment law and most of social security remain reserved to Westminster, so we must see action in this place. We must see extended legal protection against redundancy for pregnant parents, for those on shared parental and adoption leave, and for new parents for up to six months after their return to work. In particular, I want to hear from the Minister about increasing maternity leave to one year, and setting maternity pay at average weekly earnings for the first 12 weeks, and at 90% for 40 weeks or £150, whichever is lower. As I am sure the Minister will be aware, for parents who are looking at this, the detail is incredibly important.

I want to hear from the Minister about increasing shared parental leave from 52 to 64 weeks, with the additional 12 weeks to be the minimum taken by the father. I want to hear his view on introducing a principle of “use it or lose it” to encourage fathers to take paternity leave, while protecting maternity leave if it is not taken, and on increasing the statutory weeks allowed and the weekly rate of paternity pay to 100% of average weekly earnings for one week, and 100% for two weeks or £150, whichever is lower.

In all of this, where there is a will to make progress, it can and has been made. The Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Act 2018 had cross-party support to create statutory bereavement leave for parents following the death of a child up to age 18. The successful amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) permitted an additional two weeks’ statutory paid leave for parents who experienced a stillbirth. We can build on that kind of progress. My hon. Friend has now published a Bill proposing paid bereavement leave for all employees who lose a close family member. My hon. Friend the Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) proposes a Bill seeking at least three days of paid leave for anyone who suffers a miscarriage and to extend leave to those experiencing a miscarriage before 24 weeks. I urge the Minister to signal his support for both Bills.

I am pleased that some employers lead the way on parental leave issues. I give credit to them, including the John Lewis Partnership, which is the first UK high street retailer to introduce 26 weeks’ equal parenthood paid maternity and paternity leave. It offers 14 weeks’ full pay and 12 weeks’ half pay to all mums, dads and adoptive parents who have been with the company for a year. As a result, it found a significant increase in the take-up of what was paternity leave, but is now called co-parent leave.

I also give credit to the Chartered Management Institute, which surveyed its members’ attitudes towards and awareness of parental leave and shared parental leave, and on the confidence in dealing with those issues by their direct reports. It found that 71% of managers would be confident providing advice and about paternity leave, but that dropped to just 48% for shared parental leave. It concludes that better guidance is needed to help organisations to train managers to deliver those policies more effectively. Obviously, what we do here underpins an awful lot of that. I certainly agree with the Chartered Management Institute on the need for better guidance and training.

Fundamentally, it is up to the UK Government, who control those levers, to take action to strengthen the protections against pregnancy and maternity discrimination, including for the self-employed or those in precarious work, and to fix the flaws in parental support to better support both parents and children. I am keen to hear from the Minister what the UK Government’s plans are in that regard and, in particular, where the missing employment Bill is and when we can expect to see it.

18:15
Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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I congratulate the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald) on introducing this debate so well, as she always does. I chose to speak in this debate because it is something I have a particular interest in. I support the hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) in their quest on this issue and on maternity leave, which the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East brought to the main Chamber last Thursday. It is a worthy topic.

Parental leave is something that many employers do not seem to want to speak about. The hassle of finding someone else to do the job can be off-putting, yet when a parent is distracted due to issues with their children, their full attention is not on their work. We hope that this debate will raise awareness of this issue—we said it in the Chamber the other day and we will say it again today. The Minister understands the issues very well; it is great when we have issues to bring to his attention where we do not have to persuade too hard. I do not mean to be condescending; I just mean that he understands the issues, so it is easier to seek his assistance.

I have learned over many years that an engaged person working achieves much more than a distracted person. While many of us may be loth to tell others of problems at home, it is essential in a team that we know what is happening. Let me give an example from my office. I like to think I am a caring employer—I think my staff would confirm that, not because I say it, but because they would say it. One of my staff was not working to their usual standard. I noticed that something was wrong. After years of engaging with others, we get a feeling for what things are, and it was obvious to me that something was not right.

This staff member is a lady, and I am always conscious that for some things I may not be the person to speak to. The office manager is a lady, so I asked her to ascertain if all was okay. It turned out that she was in the process of splitting from her fiancé. She had been going with him for some time and had been engaged for a certain period of time, and she simply needed space and understanding. The office manager was able to handle that. We bond together well as a team—we understand things, we see things and we look out for one another, and that is the way it should be. I was able to give that staff member the space. The lesson my staff and I learned in the office is that information and sharing is key to a good working environment, but it has taken many years to grasp that concept—the very thing that the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire referred to.

A happy worker is a good worker. I understand that not all employers can offer flexibility to ensure a parent can collect their child a few days a week and work from home to build up the child’s security. However, it is imperative that the Minister and the Government step up and begin to put in place parameters, not simply to relieve workers’ stress but to offer support to employers to make parental leave accessible in every profession. It is the employees who are looking for that, but the employers need to be helped along the way. What we are looking for from the Minister is a system whereby the employers can help.

Currently, shared parental leave is at the lowest rate for 10 years—that is quite worrying, and I found the figures hard to understand. That does not mean that parents need it less. The fact is that the mental health of our children has never been worse, and that is due to covid. I am aware from my constituency, as every other Member here will be from their own constituencies, of the rising number of children in secondary and primary school who experience mental health issues that have arisen through covid. With no contact with their peers, the stress and anxiety build up and that becomes an absolute problem. That is all the more reason to make sure that parental leave and pay are in place.

The Government have carried out a piece of work on parental leave and pay entitlement, and we must now see how we can factor that into working life. A poll carried out by The Mirror a number of years ago cited the fact that many parents were refused parental leave and instead had to take a sick day when an issue arose with their child, which goes on their record. That is quite harsh, and I hope that it can be addressed. That is not the way things should be, and we must undertake to ensure that employers’ obligations are known and that there is a system in place to allow our small business employers the financial support to enable them to do right by their staff.

I conclude with one more comment, as I am conscious that there will soon be Divisions in the main Chamber. Being a parent is an absolutely wonderful calling. Those who have children will know that, even though our children may at times make us pull our hair out—looking at my head, I have pulled out more hair than most, but that is by the way. However, I want to quote one mother who spoke to me, because her comments were really important:

“I am expected to work like I have no children and parent like I have no job”—

it is about those two things, being a parent and doing the job, and trying to do the two together—

“and I just fail at both.”

I do not think she does fail—I know she does not. She is a very good mother to her children, and she is also very good at the job she does. She does not fail; we are failing her. For that reason, things need to change, and that is why I support what the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire has put forward.

18:22
Angela Crawley Portrait Angela Crawley (Lanark and Hamilton East) (SNP)
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It is truly a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mrs Miller. I speak in this debate as someone who took parental leave only a matter of weeks ago, on the birth of my son, Hudson. I also speak as an employer, and I want to extend my best wishes to my caseworker Craig and his wife Jen on the birth of their son, Ben, this week—he is also taking parental leave.

I stand here as an employer and a parliamentarian. Parental leave covers maternity, paternity and adoption leave, as well as shared parental leave. That seems like a lot of things, but what are we actually discussing? Welcoming a new baby home is a time filled with joy, but also a time filled with hard work and sleepless nights, as I can attest. Parental leave is necessary to adjust to the realities of parenting, and it allows time for practical issues, such as recovery after giving birth, health visits and vital bonding and development.

Too often, parents are forced to go back to work more quickly than they would like because of financial constraints. That is a balance that many parents have to make, but too often the assumption is that women will take the leave and the father will return to work. In the modern economy, we also find that mothers are often earning more than their partners, and although they would like to stay at home for longer, financial constraints mean they are forced back to work.

As we know, there is a gap when a mother takes more than a year off work. As you will know only too well, Mrs Miller, from your extensive work on this issue with the Women and Equalities Committee over many years, there is already a gender pay gap, and it is exacerbated by the fact the parental leave policies that exist, not just here in the UK but in other countries, prevent parents from making these choices, because fundamentally it comes down to the economics of who can afford to take that time off.

Parental leave is good for parents, children and business, but the UK Government are not going far enough to ensure that the entitlements are guaranteed for workers. We have heard that the full rate of maternity pay often applies for only 12 weeks and that many self-employed people take as little six weeks, with some taking no leave at all. There is also a failure to offer adequate parental, paternity and shared parental leave, which further compounds the maternity and pregnancy discrimination that so many women face in the workplace, and adds to the gender pay gap, pay inequalities and, eventually, pension inequalities.

We need to consider the rounded impact on women, their families and their household incomes. But this is not just about women; it is also about fathers and other partners, and about people being able to spend time with their families, while knowing that their work is valued and respected, and that their job will be there to go back to—too often, that is not the case. We have already heard about job insecurity and non-permanent contracts and that, sadly, only the privileged few can afford to take extensive periods of leave.

As the Minister knows only too well, I have—like a broken record—made an extensive case for miscarriage leave, shared parental leave and neonatal leave, and for a fundamentally radical overhaul of workplace policies, statute and protections to allow workers to take the leave that they should be due during this life event, alongside the many other life events that people encounter. We need to adapt workplace policies and protections so that workers can adapt their lives and continue to be valued members of their workforces.

As we have heard, many industries are failing to protect or even provide the most basic leave, and many parents are falling through the net. The sad reality is that only legislation can fix that. I would love to be able to say that all workplaces would adopt comprehensive policies to address such issues, but the Minister and I know that that is not case, even though it makes good economic sense to address the systemic problems in workplace culture that contribute to discrimination and pay disparity.

Much of that work could be done through the employment Bill. As I have said repeatedly—I am sure the Minister is tired of my voice over the last fortnight—we must address the need to reform UK employment protections and law. However, there is a danger that much of the detail would be lost in an overwhelming employment Bill, so I am keen to hear when the Bill will be introduced and how the Government intend it to tackle these workplace protections. The Government appear to have shelved the Bill, and there is no clear timetable for its introduction—I hope the Minister will feel free to correct me if it is forthcoming. I ask once again that parliamentary time be made available for the Bill. Will the Minister confirm that it will include improvements to parental leave and pay, measures on pregnancy and maternity discrimination, and—I have to get this in again—paid miscarriage leave?

It is clear that reform is well overdue. The current system allows too many parents to fall through the net. The Minister has listened attentively, but we need action, so I urge him to do all he can to introduce the employment Bill urgently, ensuring that it is robust in its protection of workers’ rights.

18:28
Justin Madders Portrait Justin Madders (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mrs Miller. I congratulate the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald) on securing this important debate and on her comprehensive introduction. It is clear that she is a passionate advocate for the many people who want to see great improvements in parental leave and pay.

As the hon. Lady and other Members outlined, there are a number of different types of parental leave, but I will focus on shared parental leave. It was originally designed to encourage more fathers to take leave after the birth of their child by allowing new parents to share up to 50 weeks of leave and up to 37 weeks of maternity pay in the first year after the child is born. As we have heard in the debate, from our constituents and from leading employment and equality groups, however, shared parental leave just does not do what it says on the tin. The scheme is not working for parents, and take-up rates remain woeful. In February last year, data provided by the Minister in a written answer to a parliamentary question indicated that take-up in 2019-20—the scheme’s fifth year—was just 3.6%, which is far short of the Government’s 25% target. That is simply not good enough.

We now know that things got worse during the pandemic: the use of shared parental leave fell for the first time since the scheme was launched. A study by EMW Law found that just 11,200 couples applied to use the scheme in 2020-21, which was a 17% fall on the previous year, when a record 13,100 couples applied. EMW’s analysis found that 598,000 women took maternity leave in the last year, indicating that just 2% of women who took some form of parental leave actually used shared leave. That is right—just 2%. That is a damning statistic. It is not surprising, therefore, that the UK is ranked only 34th out of 41 OECD countries for its family-friendly policies by UNICEF. It is also not surprising that leading groups such as Maternity Action, the Fawcett Society, the National Childbirth Trust, the Royal College of Midwives, the TUC and the Women’s Budget Group have all called on the Government to urgently rethink the scheme.

The Women’s Budget Group, an independent organisation that monitors the effect of Government policies on men and women, has called the scheme complicated and said that, because leave was shared, the onus on taking parental leave still fell more on women than men, because men tend to earn more and their salary would be harder to sacrifice at a time when families have great costs. Earlier this month, a Royal College of Midwives motion at the TUC women’s conference called for a shake-up in parental leave so that it works better for both parents.

Ros Bragg, the director of Maternity Action, a maternity rights charity, said:

“Shared parental leave was brought in six years ago now and it’s clear that it’s not working—take up is woeful. Our advice lines are full of parents who want to share parental leave, but confusion around the rules means that they are completely baffled. Add that to the low level of pay on offer and the system seems almost designed to put parents off sharing leave, rather than encourage it.”

The organisation is saying the scheme is not working because the shift to more equal parenting that it was supposed to promote is not happening. That does appear to be the case. We just have not seen the transformation in the take-up of parental leave by fathers that we would have hoped for. The scheme certainly needs reconsideration.

I will give the Minister and the Government a compliment—something that is rare for me—because they have spent millions of pounds on promoting the scheme. However, I am afraid that what we have heard is that it is too complicated and it is poorly understood by both employers and parents. The low rates of pay are a disincentive and workers do not qualify—for example those in agency work, on zero-hours contracts and, of course, the self-employed. We should be very clear that all those groups of workers deserve the same parental rights as everybody else.

When faced with all this evidence, it is hard to conclude that the Government are serious about employment rights and protections. They are not doing enough to address the real barriers in the way of shared parental leave. There was a Government consultation on high-level options for reforming family-related leave and pay, including a right to neonatal leave, pay for parents of premature or sick babies, and proposals to encourage transparency around flexible working and parental leave policies. That was launched back in July 2019, nearly three years ago, and we still have not seen the Government’s full response to it. They have only published a response to the proposals on neonatal leave and pay. The rest—we are told—will be reported on in due course.

As we have heard, the greatly heralded employment Bill is still to materialise. I am sure the Minister will tell us once again that it will appear when parliamentary time allows, which is a frustration to many. It is clear that the policies we need to support families are not good enough. They are not available to all workers, and they are not working sufficiently for those who are able to access the schemes. Parents and families deserve better, frankly. If the Government are keen to see the societal shift to equal parenting that we want to see, and if they want to tackle the gender pay gap, I urge them and the Minister to look at Labour’s Green Paper on a new deal for working people.

Maria Miller Portrait Mrs Maria Miller (in the Chair)
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Before I call the Minister, I should clarify that we are due to finish this session at 7.7 pm. I am sure the Minister will want to give the mover of the motion a couple of minutes at the end, if he is going to fill all that time.

18:34
Paul Scully Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Paul Scully)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Miller. I congratulate the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald) on securing this debate. I will indeed give her many more minutes than that, should she wish to fill the time.

We are committed to ensuring that employed parents have the right support available to them, so that they can balance family commitments with staying in employment. That is why our parental leave and pay entitlements are so important. I thank those who have taken part in today’s debate for their thoughtful and insightful comments, as well as their repeated engagement with this important issue.

I am pleased to say that this Government have support in place for both employers and employees on parental leave, to guide employers to do the right thing by their staff and to protect employees when they need to take time off. We have a range of leave entitlements that employed parents or parents to be may be eligible for, depending on their circumstances, which I will briefly set out. As a Government, we are committed to delivering a number of changes for new entitlements in this space, including making it easier for partners to take paternity leave, introducing neonatal leave and pay, and extending pregnancy and maternity discrimination protections.

This Government are committed to supporting the participation and progression of parents in the labour market, ensuring that it is fair and works for them. We are delivering this commitment through our framework of parental leave and pay entitlements, which are generous and flexible. Those entitlements support families whatever their circumstances or whichever stage of life they are in—from bonding with their child at birth, to grieving the loss of a child.

Parents have access to a range of leave and pay entitlements in their child’s first year, giving working families more choice and flexibility about who cares for their child and when. Our maternity leave entitlement is generous. To qualifying employed women, we offer 52 weeks of maternity leave, of which 39 are paid, which is more than three times the EU minimum requirement. For self-employed women and those who are not eligible for statutory maternity pay, maternity allowance is available. Both of those maternity payments are designed to provide a measure of financial security to help women to stop working towards the end of their pregnancy and in the months after childbirth, in the interests of their own and their baby’s health and wellbeing.

We recognise that fathers and partners play a crucial role in the first year of their child’s life, through supporting the mother and developing a relationship with the child. Paternity leave arrangements enable employed fathers and partners who meet the qualifying conditions to take up to two weeks of paid leave within the first eight weeks following the birth of their child or placement for adoption. We recognise, however, that paternity leave could be improved, so we made a manifesto commitment to make it easier for fathers and partners to take it. We will announce how we will be doing that in due course.

Shared parental leave and pay, which has been mentioned, provides parents with flexibility over their child’s care in the first year. It challenges the assumption that the mother will always be the primary carer and enables working parents to share up to 50 weeks of leave and up to 37 weeks of pay in the first year of their child’s life. That enables mothers who want to return to work early to do so, and it enables fathers and partners to be their child’s primary carer if that is the parents’ wish. When we introduced the scheme in 2015, we forecast take-up of between 2% and 8% of eligible couples. We now know that the take-up is broadly in line with those initial estimates and has increased each year. To help make shared parental leave more accessible, we launched a new online tool last year, which allows parents to check their eligibility and plan their leave.

We are currently evaluating shared parental leave, as has been said, and we will publish our findings in due course. Clearly, a lot of work has gone into that evaluation, including commissioning and interrogating information collected through large-scale representative surveys of employers and parents, and a consultation on high-level options for reforming parental leave and pay. We also commissioned a qualitative study of parents who have used the scheme, and those various data sources will help us to better understand the barriers and enable parents to take shared parental leave.

Admittedly, the analysis of the data has taken longer than originally expected, as we pivoted necessarily to prioritise work on supporting parents through the covid-19 pandemic, including ensuring that parents and individuals returning from parental leave could access the coronavirus job retention scheme. However, the evaluation remains important for the Government, and we will publish our findings in due course.

Turning to adopters, the Government are full of admiration for adopters who provide stable, loving homes to children who are unable to live with their birth parents. We recognise that it is crucial to the success of an adoption placement that an adopter takes time off work to care for and bond with their child. That is why employed adoptive parents have broadly the same rights and protections as birth parents. Adoption leave is a day one right, in line with maternity leave, which enables employed parents to take up to 52 weeks off work when they adopt a child.

We are also aware that that more needs to be done to support parents whose children are in neonatal care. In March 2020, following a Government consultation on the issue, we committed to introducing a new entitlement to neonatal leave and pay. Neonatal leave and pay will apply to parents of babies who are admitted into hospital up to the age of 28 days and who have a continuous stay in hospital of seven full days or more. Eligible parents will be able to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave on top of their other parental entitlements, such as maternity and paternity leave. Neonatal leave will be a day one right, meaning that it will be available to an employee from their first day in a new job.

As well as ensuring that parents have the leave and flexibility they need during this period, it is just as important to ensure that they are protected against discrimination and do not suffer detriment for taking that leave. That is why we are extending pregnancy and maternity discrimination protection for those returning from periods of eligible parental leave. We will ensure that the redundancy protection period applies from the point the employee informs the employer that she is pregnant and for six months after a mother has returned to work. We will also apply that protection to those taking adoption leave and shared parental leave.

Of course, our support for employed parents goes beyond the first year of a child’s life. We recognise that for a whole range of reasons, parents of school-age children need support in caring for their children throughout the various stages of their childhood and teenage years. To enable parents to offer that support, all employed parents are entitled to 18 weeks of unpaid leave for each child up to the child’s 18th birthday once they have completed 12 months of service with their employer. Employees also have access to time off for dependants, which provides a reasonable amount of unpaid time off work to deal with an unexpected or sudden emergency involving a child or dependant. In recognition of the particularly tragic circumstance of losing a young life before they have even had the opportunity to reach adulthood, we also introduced a new statutory entitlement to parental bereavement leave and pay. That entitlement gives all employed parents who meet the eligibility requirements a right to take up to two weeks off work in the 56 weeks following the death of their child.

Obviously, I appreciate the work done by the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) on extending that entitlement further. It is not something at which we are looking at this moment in time, but I will always enjoy continuing to discuss this issue and looking at what we can do for parents, because it is a tragedy to suffer a loss at any time. At the moment, we have drawn the line following the clinical measure of 24 weeks, but we also have other work in train that enables greater flexibility for all employees, including those who are employed parents. Although not a replacement for leave, having access to flexible working arrangements can be a really important tool to enable employees to balance work and family responsibilities or to support those in employment who experience a really difficult life event.

We have taken forward our manifesto commitment to consult on making flexible working the default unless employers have a really good reason not to do so. That consultation contained measures that would increase the availability and support the uptake of flexible working arrangements, including whether to extend the right to request flexible working to all employees from their first day of employment. That consultation closed on 1 December; we are now reviewing the 1,600-odd responses received, and will issue our response in due course. The consultation also introduced plans for a future call for evidence on the subject of ad hoc flexible working, through which we want to explore how non-contractual flexibility works in practice.

As we have heard, when it comes to helping employers understand how to be sympathetic and supportive to their employees, one of the most important tools is guidance. As an example of that, we recently commissioned a significant update of the guidance on managing a bereavement in the workplace, which includes a new section on supporting employees after a miscarriage before 24 weeks of pregnancy and offers examples of best practice. That guidance can be found right now on the ACAS website.

Another example is the flexible working taskforce, which is a partnership across business groups, trade unions, charities and Government Departments that shares knowledge and best practice on all forms of flexible working and takes on discrete pieces of work. Over the past 18 months, that taskforce has produced advice and guidance to support employers who may be interested in introducing hybrid working arrangements for the first time. Advice published by ACAS in July set out the key legal and practical issues associated with this way of working, and a practical guide offering top tips to businesses on how to effectively implement hybrid working was published independently by taskforce members in December, as part of our approach to support employers and employees to have conversations about what is happening in their lives and what support they need.

Employers are best placed to understand their own people and to develop a solution that works for the individual, as we heard from the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) when he talked about happy employees being more productive employees. Clearly, there are great examples of companies treating their employees with compassion and going beyond the statutory minimum. That approach is valuable to the employer as well as to the employee, through the increased loyalty of employees.

I would like to reassure the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire. She asked about employment measures, but I am afraid that not much has changed since we last spoke about this, because Her Majesty has not yet told us the legislation for the next Session, since we have not finished this one. Nevertheless, the Government are committed to building a high-skilled, high-productivity and high-waged economy that delivers on our ambition to make the UK the best place in the world to work and to grow a business. We will continue to do that by championing a flexible and dynamic labour market. As we build back better, we will bring forward employment measures to make it easier for people to enter and remain in work as soon as parliamentary time allows. The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) can tick away on his employment Bill bingo when we do so.

I reiterate the Government’s commitment to support parents in the workplace and to enable them to be where their families need them while staying in employment. I have highlighted some of the broad range of support that the Government have in place to support parents through different life events, but employers also have an important part to play, because they know their employees. A supportive workplace brings benefits to both the employee and the employer, including on productivity and wellbeing. Once again, I thank the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire and everyone else for their contributions to this important debate, working hard to support parents in the workplace.

18:46
Kirsten Oswald Portrait Kirsten Oswald
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I, too, am grateful to everyone who has spoken in the debate. It is an important issue, and thinking about all the people across these islands who are affected by it probably brings that home.

As the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) pointed out, we could probably speak about this a good bit more, but it is pressing to speak about it now. People face a cost of living crisis that makes the need for action all the more urgent, and we cannot get away from where I started today: among OECD countries, the UK has the second lowest payment rates for maternity leave. The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) set that out well, including the poor levels of take-up at present.

We are simply not where we should be with parental leave and pay. My hon. Friend the Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) explained clearly the impacts of that shortfall on individuals and households.

I am grateful for the tone with which the Minister always approaches such matters, but I do not think that there is any getting away from the fact that we are not where we need to be on action to deliver fairness and proper support. In conclusion, if the UK Government will not deal properly with this and deliver the employment Bill that we have long been promised to achieve fair work across all these issues, including parental leave and pay, they should devolve employment matters so that we can deliver fair work for ourselves.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered parental leave and pay.

18:48
Sitting adjourned.