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Pregnancy and Maternity Discrimination

Volume 698: debated on Wednesday 7 July 2021

What steps the Government is taking to tackle pregnancy and maternity discrimination in the labour market. (902448)

The Government recognise the importance of tackling pregnancy and maternity discrimination, which is why we will extend the redundancy protection period for six months once a new mother has returned to work and provide similar protections for those parents taking adoption leave and shared parental leave. We will bring these measures forward as soon as parliamentary time allows.

As a devastating Equality and Human Rights Commission report highlighted some five years ago, and certainly given the experience of too many of my constituents, discrimination against pregnant women and new mothers is still widespread. When will the Government actually get their act together and bring in the legislation they have promised to stop employers making women redundant during pregnancy, and until at least six months after they have returned from maternity leave?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, but legislation can only ever be part of the answer, which is why we have committed to bring together key business and family representative groups to tackle the questions on organisational culture and to ensure that women and employers know their rights. We will introduce legislative measures when parliamentary time allows.

EHRC research in 2016 found disturbingly high levels of pregnancy and maternity discrimination in UK workplaces, and the Select Committee on Women and Equalities report highlighted that discriminatory practices towards pregnant women and those on maternity leave during the pandemic should have been

“better anticipated by the government”

and that “preventative actions” should have been taken. So will Ministers tell me what representations they have made to Cabinet colleagues to urgently legislate to extend redundancy protection and finally put an end to this unacceptable discrimination?

As I said, when parliamentary time allows we will bring legislation forward. I value the hon. Lady’s work and the conversation we had with Pregnant Then Screwed and Maternity Action. We continue to have plans for roundtables to understand the issues better, bringing those two groups together again, along with businesses.

Tragically, maternity discrimination does not just happen in the labour market—it also happens in labour wards. What work is the Minister doing across government to make sure that we drive down the horrific death toll that sees black women four times as likely to die in childbirth than their white counterparts?

The Minister for Equalities is doing a lot of work in this area, as is our Department of Health and Social Care. We are committed to reducing inequalities in health outcomes, and Professor Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent OBE, the chief midwifery officer, is leading work to understand why mortality rates are high, consider evidence and bring action together, because this is a complex situation. It is not just within maternity; it is far more holistic than that, for instance on whether people are accessing health services in the first place, and with the fact that we had some of the highest rates in the EU of obesity and underweight issues going into maternity and the highest rates of smoking in pregnancy in the EU—indeed, our level is even higher than America’s.

Research from the TUC has found that one in four pregnant women and new mums experienced unfair treatment or discrimination at work during the pandemic, including being singled out for redundancy or furlough. The imminent tapering off of furlough prompts serious concern about unequal redundancies. Will the Minister follow Labour’s lead and, instead of the Government simply extending their ineffective and complicated laws, make things simpler and more robust for mothers and businesses alike by introducing a German-style ban on making a pregnant woman or new mother redundant from notification of pregnancy to six months after they return to work?

We believe that extending the MAPLE—Maternity and Parental Leave etc. Regulations 1999—provisions is a better way of doing it that goes with the grain of the tribunal system that we have within this country. That is why, after due consideration, we will be bringing that forward as soon as parliamentary time allows.

Maternity Action highlights the fact that pregnant women and new mothers cannot devote their energy and finances to pursuing employment tribunal claims. The Minister says he wants to take steps to understand, but I can tell him that the thousands of women who have lost wages, entitlements or their job because of the pandemic, or the more who will unfortunately follow, need effective access now to justice and more time to enforce their rights. The Minister has also says he is committed to action. So what is the hold-up, and what does it say about this Government’s priorities?

I said earlier that legislation can only ever be part of the answer. There are robust laws at the moment whereby employers have to maintain their duty of care to their workforce, but, as I say, we are taking a different approach rather than bringing in an almost outright ban on making pregnant women and new mothers redundant. We are working with the grain of the existing UK approach, and this will happen soon as parliamentary time allows.