MPs debate petition to extend paid maternity leave in light of COVID-19

On Monday 5 October, MPs debated a petition, which received over 238,000 signatures, calling on the Government to extend maternity leave by three months with pay in light of COVID-19. However, responding to the petition, the Government confirmed that is has no plans to do so, stating: “The UK’s Maternity Leave offer is already amongst the most generous in the world – up to 52 weeks of leave are available, 39 weeks of which are paid – and we currently have no plans to extend it.”

Petitions Committee Inquiry

The debate followed the publication of a report in July from the Petitions Committee on the impact of COVID-19 on maternity and parental leave following its inquiry, which heard from almost 70,000 people – including academics, charities, parents and experts – on the need to review how new parents have been, and are, supported during the pandemic.

The inquiry highlighted the impact of the COVID19 pandemic in terms of the mental and physical health and wellbeing not just of new parents in the immediate term but of their babies in the long term. It heard from many new parents who sought an extension of paid parental leave to give them time to find adequate childcare and settle their babies for their return to work. The inquiry heard concerns that new mothers in particular would be at a much greater risk of discrimination and redundancy due to the economic impact of the pandemic.

The inquiry report made 23 recommendations to the Government, including to extend maternity leave, to capture more data on the uptake of parental leave, and to conduct an urgent review into childcare. When the Government responded in September, it rejected the Inquiry’s key recommendations.

Westminster Hall Debate

Chair of the Petitions Committee, MP Catherine McKinnell opened the debate with an overview of the Committee’s Inquiry findings, and called on the Government to take decisive action and to act on the recommendations in the report, stating that new parents have been left without support at a crucial time in their and their babies’ lives.

MPs, including Claire Hanna, SDLP MP for South Belfast and Gavin Robinson, DUP MLA for East Belfast, raised the extraordinary challenges experienced by new parents at this time including:

  • Negative impact on mental health and well-being of new mums
  • Partners unable to attend antenatal sessions, scans and deliveries
  • Limited access to extended family support
  • An inability to socialise babies with other children and adults, such as at parent and baby groups, or sensory classes
  • Lack of access to childcare for older children, or an inability to access childcare to facilitate a return to work
  • No face to face contact with a midwife or health visitor for some parents
  • The threat of redundancy for working mothers and negative financial impacts for women who are self-employed.

Several MPs quoted parents who had reached out to them sharing personal experiences, for example:

Nic: “Being a new mum, I worry I am not doing enough for my daughter, and also making sure she is eating enough. As the midwife drop-in centres have been closed, I have been unable to weigh her or be able to speak to a midwife or health visitor face to face. That has been a real worry for me.”

Samara: “My biggest challenge was feeling isolated at home, trying to look after a baby and a toddler without much support. I felt overwhelmed and alone, so I would have loved some support with childcare from other family members.”

While there was strong support for the motion, some MPs expressed their views either that it did not go far enough, or that alternatives to an extension of statutory maternity leave should be considered, including embedding further statutory flexibility and family friendly working practices within the workplace.

Government response

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Paul Scully, MP), responded on behalf of the Government. While thanking those who raised the petition, welcoming the debate on these issues, and recognising that new parents want to give their children the best start in life, the Government’s response was that the existing entitlement in terms of maternity leave and pay is both generous and fair, and that issues in relation to access to services and family support are improving due to relaxations in restrictions. Having considered the petition, the Government confirmed it has no plans to extend maternity leave.

Watch the Debate in full or read the Inquiry Report

You can read more about the petition and inquiry report here.

For further information on your entitlements as a new or expectant parents, contact our Family Benefits Advice Service on 028 9267 8200 or email