The Government is rushing through a change in the law to allow a senior minister to take six months’ maternity leave.
The new Attorney General, Conservative MP, Suella Braverman, will give birth to her second child in the coming months but under current laws, she would have to resign if she wanted to take time off following the birth of her child.
Legislation from the 1970s means that the prime minister does not have the authority to provide maternity pay for a cabinet minister alongside paying a salary for her replacement. Normal employee rights do not apply to ministers because they are appointed and fired by the prime minister.
The Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill will allow cabinet ministers including Ms Braverman, to take maternity leave of up to six months on full pay. More junior ministers and civil servants are already able to take maternity leave.
The scheme will grant six months of full pay – under current rules, she would have had to resign or be demoted to qualify.
The leader of the Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer said his party would back the bill, saying the change “should have been brought in a long time ago”. Rachel Reeves MP, the Labour Party’s shadow cabinet minister said the move was a “small but significant step forward” but the government needed to go further and make provision for paternity, adoption and shared parental leave.
The prime minister, Boris Johnson said: “The choice between taking leave to recover from childbirth and care for a new-born child or resigning from office is not acceptable in modern times”.
MPs can and have taken maternity leave in the past, but this did not apply to members of the cabinet until now.
A report from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy estimates that as many as 54,000 women each year may be fired or otherwise lose their role because of pregnancy or motherhood.
According to a study published last year by the TUC, since the COVID-19 crisis began, a quarter of pregnant women or new mothers have experienced unfair treatment at work, including being singled out for redundancy or furlough.
Additionally, according to PWC research published in May, 78% of those who have already lost their jobs as a result of the coronavirus pandemic are women.
Right To Life UK spokesperson, Catherine Robinson, said: “Negative workplace attitudes towards pregnancy and motherhood can increase pressure on women to have an abortion. No woman should have to face such pressure.”
“The UK does not currently offer adequate legal protection for pregnant women in the workplace. Further steps need to be taken to provide greater economic security for pregnant women, particularly at this critical time where many mothers are facing redundancy.”