When Natasha found out the exciting news that she was pregnant, the last thing she expected was to be handed a redundancy notice by her employer. But that’s exactly what happened to her. In the middle of the pandemic, Natasha was made redundant. She was the only member on her team to be laid off. In the middle of the chaos and disruption of 2020, with a baby on the way, Natasha was unemployed without the means to pay her bills.
And then, it got worse.
Natasha suffered the heartbreak of a miscarriage. She’d lost her baby, and she’d lost her job.
When I first read her story, I didn’t believe it. Shamefully, stories like Natasha’s are not uncommon. In fact, her story is one of 54,000 every year, according to the findings of a BEIS-commissioned, Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) survey. A report which also found that 3 in 4 women experienced pregnancy and maternity discrimination. It’s a scandal.
Fast forward to 2023, we are now 6 years on from the EHRC’s shocking findings and yet no action had been taken to tackle the industrial scale discrimination women face. This is despite the Government consistently saying they will address the issue, with promises to extend redundancy protections to the period of pregnancy and following a parent’s return to work. But it’s never happened.
Most recently was October 2019, when in the Queen’s Speech the Government pledged to deliver these commitments through an Employment Bill. A Bill that as quickly as it was announced, vanished without trace. And then, the pandemic hit. A crisis that amplified and exacerbated every pre-existing inequality and pushed even more women out of work.
Discrimination was rife pre-pandemic, but mothers were one and a half times more likely than fathers to have lost their job since the lockdown began and women dominate industries that are slower to recover.
Today, people are facing a cost-of-living crisis of epic proportions. Wages are shrinking and millions of people arefalling into poverty. A scarcity of affordable housing, extortionate childcare costs, and soaring inflation, mean raising a family has never been harder and, for many the decision to start or grow a family is becoming increasinglyunaffordable.
No one should be penalised for having children, but too often women are. What new mothers need at the very least is job security, yet too often they continue to be the first to be hoofed out the door by employers.
There is no more time to waste. This is why I introduced a new bill in Parliament to extend redundancy protections forexpectant mums and new parents. The provisions include parents taking adoption or shared parental leave and stop them being the first to be laid off on their return to work. It’s a long over-due step towards guaranteeing families more dignity in the workplace.
It was hard graft to get it over the line at third reading, but we did it. At each debate I was particularly heartened to hear the powerful and moving testimonies of women colleagues, across the House, standing up and telling their stories of discrimination and parenthood. This is an issue that will affect tens-of-thousands of families with half a million people pregnant each year.
The Bill has now been introduced to the Lords where the baton’s been taken up by Baroness Bertin. I have every confidence she’ll continue the good work and I’m optimistic we will change the law.
We have a precious opportunity to make a change for 54,000mothers-to-be and thousands of new parents besides. I’ll keep going to ensure nobody stands in our way of providing these overdue protections to expectant and new parents.