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Petitions

Volume 689: debated on Monday 22 February 2021

Petitions

Monday 22 February 2021

OBSERVATIONS

Health and Social Care

Safety of pregnant women during the coronavirus outbreak

The petition of Ernest Boateng,

Declares that the wife of Ernest Boateng, Mary Agyiewaa Agyapong, a 28 year-old pregnant nurse, tragically died in April 2020, after becoming infected with covid-19; notes that a corresponding petition online has been signed by over 100,000 people; further declares that, since Mary’s death, very little has been done to protect pregnant women from this life-threatening virus, despite studies showing that for those in the later stages of pregnancy, they are more likely to become severely unwell; further that the announcement of a vaccine which is to be rolled out imminently is good news for many people who are vulnerable, but pregnant women will not be given the vaccine; notes that the current guidance continues to list pregnant women as vulnerable and says that if they cannot work from home then they should adhere to strict social distancing; further notes that research by Pregnant Then Screwed in October found that 57% of pregnant women who are working outside of the home do not feel safe, and only half of pregnant women (53%) have had a risk assessment from their employer; further declares that, even then, many employers are ignoring their own risk assessment; further notes that only 1% of pregnant women who cannot work from home have been suspended from work on safety grounds; further that the groups at increased risk of severe covid-19 were recognised including the increased risk for mothers from Black, Asian and minority ethnic heritage; and further declares that Mary should not have been working based on the facts and findings above as she was 35 weeks pregnant when she tested positive for covid-19.

The petitioner therefore requests that the House of Commons urges the Government to protect pregnant women during the ongoing covid-19 pandemic by ensuring they can either work from home or that they have the right to full paid leave.

And the petitioner remains, etc.

—[Presented by Sarah Owen , Official Report, 13 January 2021; Vol. 687, c. 443.]

[P002643]

Observation from The Minister for Patient Safety, Suicide Prevention and Mental Health, (Ms Dorries):

Employers’ health and safety responsibilities for pregnant workers have not changed and guidance provided by the Health and Safety Executive emphasises the importance of ongoing, open discussions between employers and their workers. Concerns raised to the Health and Safety Executive are investigated and a range of enforcement from guidance and advice through to prosecution can be used.

On 23 December, guidance for pregnant employees, including pregnant healthcare professionals, was published by the Government together with the Health and Safety Executive, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Royal College of Midwives. The guidance is available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-advice-for-pregnant-emplovees/coronavirus-covid-19-advice-for-pregnant-emplovees.

The guidance aims to aid discussions between employees, line managers and the occupational health team about the best way to ensure health and safety in the workplace. It sets out recommendations for women less than 28 weeks pregnant, women who are 28 weeks pregnant and beyond, and women with underlying health conditions

The guidance sets out that if a woman is pregnant and has let their employer know in writing of their pregnancy, the employer should carry out a risk assessment to follow the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 or the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2000. Pregnant women of any gestation should not be required to continue working if this is not supported by the risk assessment.

The Government and the Health and Safety Executive have provided clear Health and Safety guidance to employers, to minimise risk in the workplace. This includes a requirement to carry out a risk assessment to identify what work activity or situations might cause transmission of the virus and thinking about who could be at risk (e.g. pregnant women).

The current position set out in this guidance is:

If it is not possible for the employer to offer safe work for an expectant mother following a risk assessment, she is entitled to be offered suitable alternative work.

If there is no suitable alternative work or working from home, the employer must suspend the employee on full pay for as long as the risk remains. This is in line with normal requirements under regulation 16(3) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

If an employee has concerns, they can raise them with their workplace representative or the Health and Safety Executive, whose contact details are in the Safer Workplaces guides: HSE COVID-19 enquiries Telephone: 0300 790 6787 (Monday to Friday, 8:30am to 5pm).

Where there is evidence that an employer has deliberately flouted the law, HSE will consider taking enforcement action.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation updated their advice on 30 December, which now indicates that vaccination in pregnancy should be considered where the risk of exposure to covid-19 is high and cannot be avoided, or where the woman has underlying conditions which puts them at very high risk of serious complications of covid-19.

In these circumstances, it is recommended that clinicians discuss risks and benefits of vaccination with the woman, and they should be made aware of the absence of safety data for the covid-19 vaccine in pregnant women before accepting it.

Treasury

Support for people excluded from COVID-19 measures

The petition of residents of the constituency of North Ayrshire and Arran,

Declares that there is urgent concern for around three million people who have been completely overlooked by the UK Government’s support package for the covid-19 pandemic; further declares that it is alarming that, despite the Chancellor’s recent response to changing circumstances, his Winter Economic Plan continues to exclude people who already could not access the Government’s financial support; further that it is an injustice to the millions of workers who have been thrown into hardship that the Government promised that “no one would be left behind”; further that the Government’s commitment that it would not stop trying to find ways to support people and businesses now sounds hollow in the ears of the three million people—the self-employed, freelance workers, the newly employed as of March this year and the limited company directors—who are excluded from any and all support and are now in their eighth month with no financial assistance; and further that there is deep concern that, despite repeated arguments that the gaps in support are addressed, the UK Government has still failed to address this injustice.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Government to bring forward additional measures to support the three million who have been unfairly excluded from UK Government support.

And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Patricia Gibson, Official Report, 1 December 2020; Vol. 685, c. 268.]

[P002632]

Observations from the Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Jesse Norman):

In response to the pandemic, the Government have provided a wide-ranging economic package that is recognised as one of the most generous in the world, taking unprecedented steps to support families, businesses and the most vulnerable. This package includes support for employees through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS), and for self-employed people through the Self- Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS).

So far, the CJRS has helped 1.2 million employers across the UK to furlough 9.9 million jobs. The scheme is scheduled to run until the end of April 2021. The Government have received over £18.5 billion of claims so far across the first three SEISS grants. Further details of the fourth SEISS grant, to cover February to April 2021, will be set out in due course.

In designing and delivering these schemes, the Government prioritised delivering support to as many people as possible, as quickly as possible, while guarding against the risk of fraud or abuse. This meant making difficult decisions, and the Government recognise that some of the eligibility criteria and conditions, necessary to ensure that these schemes work for the vast majority, have meant that some people did not qualify.

Bringing these people into the schemes would have required an unacceptable level of risk of fraud and error. But overall, as the National Audit Office has acknowledged, the Government were right to introduce the SEISS and CJRS, which have been successful in helping to protect the livelihoods of millions of people.

Those ineligible for the CJRS or SEISS may still be eligible for other elements of the wider £280 billion support package available. The Government have introduced a range of additional welfare measures to provide further support to those who rely on the welfare system, injecting an additional £7.4 billion, including a £20 per week increase in the 2020-21 Universal Credit standard allowance and the suspension of the Universal Credit Minimum Income Floor for self-employed people on low incomes until the end of April 2021.

The Government have also increased the Local Housing Allowance rates for Universal Credit and Housing Benefit claimants so that they cover the lowest 30th percentile of local rents. This increase means nearly £1 billion of additional support for private renters claiming Universal Credit or Housing Benefit in 2020-21, and means over 1.5 million households will gain an average of £600, including those in work. The Government have confirmed that Local Housing Allowance rates will be maintained at the same cash level in 2021-22 in order to ensure that claimants continue to benefit from this increase.

In addition, a number of loan schemes are open for businesses seeking liquidity until the end of March 2021, including the Bounce Back Loan Scheme, Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, and the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme. These have provided over £68 billion in guaranteed loans, and sit alongside VAT cuts for businesses in hospitality and tourism, business rates holidays for eligible businesses across the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors, as well as nurseries, and billions of pounds in tax deferrals, rate reliefs, and other labour market schemes for businesses facing reduced demand.

The Government have also introduced the Local Restrictions Support Grant (LRSG) (Closed), giving businesses forced to close due to national or local restrictions up to £3,000 per month. This was worth over £1 billion for the four weeks of national lockdown in November and will benefit over 600,000 business premises. In addition, these businesses will benefit from one-off grants of up to £9,000 as announced on 5 January. Similarly, where local areas are subject to enhanced restrictions on socialising, in particular a ban on indoor household mixing, LAs will receive funding that enables them to make grants to hospitality, leisure, and accommodation businesses worth up to £2,100 per month.

Businesses that are not eligible for the grants for closed businesses may be able to benefit from funding from the Additional Restrictions Grant. The Government recently increased the funding available under this scheme to £1.6 billion across England. It is up to each local authority to determine eligibility for this scheme based on their assessment of local economic need; the Government encourage local authorities to support businesses which have been impacted by covid-19 restrictions, but which are ineligible for the other grant schemes.

Finally, to give the devolved administrations the certainty to plan and deliver their coronavirus response, the Government have guaranteed that they will receive at least £16.8 billion in additional funding this year, on top of the support announced at spring Budget 2020. This means at least £8.6 billion of additional funding for the Scottish Government, £5.2 billion for the Welsh Government, and £3.0 billion for the Northern Ireland Executive.

These policy responses are carefully designed to complement each other, and provide certainty and support to individuals and businesses across the UK. The Government continue to take a flexible approach and keep impacts and policies under review. That is exactly why they have extended the schemes, to support businesses and jobs over the coming months and prepare them for the inclusive recovery we all want to see.

During this difficult time the Treasury will continue to work closely with employers, delivery partners, industry groups and other Government Departments in order to understand and address the long-term effects of covid-19 and the challenges it poses to the wider economy.