All 1 Selaine Saxby contributions to the Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Act 2023

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Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Bill

Selaine Saxby Excerpts
Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby (North Devon) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Paul Howell), and I congratulate the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald) on bringing this Bill through the House. It is an important piece of legislation that will support so many families around the UK. Neonatal care for premature and sick babies can have long-lasting impacts on a family, as we have heard, even once the baby is well and able to return home. Those impacts range across logistical challenges, family dynamics and even the future attainment of the baby.

Bringing in additional care leave will, in the short term, alleviate the stress caused when one parent has to return to work. Paternity leave provides for only two weeks of leave from work for the 50,000 families who spend more than one week in neonatal care after birth every year. The father’s chance to bond with the baby and support their recovering partner is severely limited. Seventy per cent. of families with a significant neonatal stay report that one parent had to return to work while the baby was still receiving care in hospital. The pressure that puts on the remaining parent, as they make crucial decisions alone for their child, have to remain in hospital while recovering themselves or face issues around childcare for older children, is immense.

In rural areas such as my North Devon constituency, families also have to face the challenges of getting to hospital, especially if one parent returns to work and the other cannot drive and has to rely on very sparse public transport. With longer maternity leave and pay entitlements, the parent left with the child is often the mother.

In families who do not require neonatal care, the childcare burden still falls disproportionately on women. In 2018, Government research found that fewer than one in five of all new mothers, and 29% of first-time mothers, return to work full time in the first three years after maternity leave. In the childcare and early years survey of 2021, around 71% of mothers with children aged nought to 14 were in work. For new mothers, however, staying with the same employer is associated with a lower risk of downward occupational mobility, but also a lower chance of progression. A previous study found that a third of women returners reported a reduction in job status. Overall, it found that women were less likely to return to work if they had not received any maternity pay at all.

Although there has been notable progress in maternity leave and, of course, paternity leave, the life of mothers when they return to work and how it affects their career progression and productivity has been less talked about. The burden on a mother facing exceptional care and health needs for their child is even higher. At present, parents of premature babies have to leave their children at an earlier stage of development than other parents. This leads to many mothers reconsidering their plans and either significantly delaying their return or leaving the workforce altogether.

Boosting productivity is crucial to boosting economic growth. Enabling more women to confidently return to work after maternity leave will not only reduce the gender pay gap, and the gender gap in senior leadership positions, but boost our economy. This Bill not only supports families but helps British businesses to manage parental leave. Parents often resort to statutory sick pay while their child is in hospital. This is not a suitable replacement for appropriate leave and pay, both for parents and for employers. Unlike neonatal pay, employers are unable to reclaim the cost of statutory sick pay, so the current system comes at a significant cost to businesses.

Ultimately, a more stable family life benefits babies as they grow. Seventy-one per cent. of families report that they are worried about the long-term outcomes for their pre-term babies. Neonatal care prevents a lot of typical bonding, such as skin-to-skin contact, feeding and other regular care. This bonding has been shown to improve weight gain and motor reflexes, and even reduce pain, as the child grows. By giving parents the right to neonatal care leave, on top of maternity and paternity leave, families will have more time to bond, increase their confidence in parenting and reduce separation and financial stresses.

We all want the best for our children, and supporting families as they face the challenges of neonatal care helps to give them the best start in life. As is so often the case on a Friday, we do our best work in this House when we are together. I am delighted to support the Bill today.