“Disappointing” Government response to Petitions Committee report on COVID-19 impact on new parents

Posted on September 09, 2020

The Government has responded to The House of Commons' Petitions Committee recommendation, based on Bliss' evidence, that Neonatal Leave and Pay should be piloted to support parents impacted by COVID-19.

The Government has today published its response to the House of Commons Petitions Committee report on The impact of COVID-19 on maternity and parental leave. The report was the result of an extensive inquiry following an e-petition calling for the Government to extend maternity leave by 3 months with pay in light of Covid-19 which received over 226,000 signatures.

Bliss provided evidence to the Committee specifically on the experience of parents with a baby in neonatal care during COVID-19, highlighting the wide-ranging impact of the pandemic on families whose babies have been born needing neonatal care, including the impact of parental separation, increased financial pressures and job insecurity, and heightened levels of stress and anxiety. Bliss therefore called for the early introduction of Neonatal Leave and Pay to provide additional time for these parents to be with their babies.

The Petitions Committee endorsed this call, and included in its report the recommendation that: “In advance of the planned delivery of neonatal leave and pay in 2023, the Government should pilot the introduction of these reforms for those affected by the Covid-19 outbreak. If a success, the date of the general introduction of these measures could be brought forward.” However, the Government has rejected this recommendation, stating that it would be too complex to pilot this entitlement early.

Bliss Chief Executive Caroline Lee-Davey commented: “Bliss has heard from thousands of parents during lockdown about the impact that restrictions in being with their baby in neonatal care have had on them, their baby and their family. For these parents, having additional paid leave at the end of their statutory entitlement would make a huge difference to the time they are able to spend with their baby after discharge from hospital, bonding at home as a family. It is therefore extremely disappointing that the Government has rejected outright the Petitions Committee recommendation to pilot the introduction of Neonatal Leave & Pay for these parents.

“Bliss is currently surveying parents who have had a baby in neonatal care since the start of lockdown, and 88% of respondents so far have said that extra parental leave and pay would be helpful for them and their family".

One survey respondent told us: “4 months of my leave has been spent in hospital - stressed, worried… This time has not been enjoyable and when my baby comes out she will be like a newborn baby as she hits her due date…I cannot afford to have the final three months without pay so I will have to go back earlier. This needs rapid action”.

The Committee Chair, Catherine McKinnell MP, has also expressed the Committee’s disappointment that the Government has rejected most of its recommendations, stating that: “The notion that current Government support to new parents during the pandemic is sufficient, when a quarter of a million people affected have signed this parliamentary petition, ignores the distressing reality expressed by many.”