Cost of Living: Parental Leave and Pay Debate

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Department: Department for Work and Pensions

Cost of Living: Parental Leave and Pay

Steve McCabe Excerpts
Monday 19th June 2023

(10 months, 1 week ago)

Westminster Hall
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Catherine McKinnell Portrait Catherine McKinnell
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The hon. Lady speaks very passionately about the impact of parental leave. I am not here to make policy for either the Government or Labour’s Front-Bench team; I will leave that to the two Front Benchers who are here to speak on behalf of the main parties. But I can speak for the petitioners. One mother who spoke to me said that increased paternity pay and leave would be

“the dream, it would have stopped it being all on me.”

I think that quite often the petitioners, who have brought us all here today, say it better than many of us could.

The Petitions Committee has previously highlighted the further action that must be taken to protect expectant and new parents from redundancy, by making it illegal from the moment employers are notified to six months after maternity leave is over. We are proud of the work we have done to see some of those changes in Government.

I want to ask the Minister a few questions about the issues that I have raised; I am sure she has been scribbling notes already. Will she commit to reviewing the way in which statutory maternity pay, statutory paternity pay and maternity allowance are calculated, so that the pay better reflects the rate of actual inflation and so that the money that parents are getting is not diminishing before their eyes? That seems to be the source of a huge amount of anxiety, as I am sure the Government appreciate.

What is the Minister doing to ensure that every mother knows the support that they are entitled to? Too often, parents seem to lack the information necessary, or they are given incorrect information and miss out on vital support. Will the Minister consider equalising access to statutory parental pay for adoptive parents, including those who are self-employed? Can the Minister account for why the take-up of Healthy Start vouchers remains below Government targets? What are the Government doing to improve that? It is within their gift to do so.

Finally, what recent assessment have the Government made of the impact of maternity pay rates on social health outcomes for new mothers and babies? It is important that we monitor what can be assessed, and outcomes for children can be clearly assessed in age two developmental assessments. Sadly, indications are that they are getting worse, not better. The petitioners would certainly indicate that improving support for new parents would improve outcomes in those age two development assessments.

The status quo does not need to be permanent. Yes, we are in a cost of living crisis, but we can change it. We can change it for the youngest people in our society to ensure that it does not have long-term negative consequences, but that requires the Government to listen to the concerns raised by petitioners and take action. It is a complex issue, and a multitude of stakeholders will be engaged in it. However, at its core is that profoundly important experience of raising a child. If our society allows having a child to become unaffordable, fewer people will choose to have children. One new parent told us:

“Having children in 2023 is no longer a choice you make with your partner, it’s a calculation on a spreadsheet”.

That is the cold reality of modern parenting in the UK. Western societies are existentially threatened by ageing populations, falling birth rates and the need to pay pensions, yet our Government are standing by while this car crash happens in slow motion. The cost of living crisis has shined a sharper light on a situation that was already becoming untenable.

To return to Nicola, the petition’s creator, it is a broken system when even the best prepared mothers feel that they have no option but to create a petition to get the Government to listen and do something. Through no fault of their own, children today are being born into precarity rather than stable, financially secure homes, with parents burned out by stress and isolated by incomes shrinking relative to inflation.

I urge the Government to look seriously at what can be done for new parents, whether that is following up on the recommendations of petitioners by linking statutory pay to the cost of living, by expanding paternity leave or by ensuring that more support is available for new parents in other ways. One thing is clear from the plethora of evidence I have taken ahead of this debate: doing nothing is not an option.

Steve McCabe Portrait Steve McCabe (in the Chair)
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As the mover of the motion said, it is unfortunate that this debate has possibly been affected by events elsewhere, but none the less we are blessed to have the omnipresent Jim Shannon. I call him now.