MPs have called for a three-month extension for all new parents caught up in the coronavirus pandemic while on parental leave.
The call for an extension has been backed up by warnings over job losses and the difficulty of arranging childcare during this time.
A report, following a petition, published on 6 July found that new parents have missed out on “vital support” during lockdown, leading to some developing severe mental health issues.
The lack of support includes cancelled appointments with health professionals as well as lack of access to doctors, dentists and mental health services.
A petition encouraging the government to extend parental leave for three months was signed by 226,000 people, prompting the Commons petitions committee to look into the impact COVID-19 has had on new parents.
It found that some parents are at risk of losing their jobs because of the coronavirus, while others have no childcare options to support them when they return to work.
Without the support of grandparents and with limited childminders and nursery places available because of the uptake from other parents, many people who signed the petition simply said they were unable to return to work because they didn’t have any support to do so.
The government made an initial suggestion that one parent could be moved on to furlough after their leave ends, but the committee warned this was “rarely offered” and wouldn’t be an option for the majority of those returning to work in the coming weeks and months.
Tens of thousands of people have been affected by childcare problems as a result of COVID-19, and MPs are urging ministers to extend maternity, shared parental and adoption leave for those impacted.
At the moment in the UK, women are able to take a year’s maternity leave and receive statutory pay for 39 weeks. Parents who choose to use shared leave are entitled to 50 weeks with 37 weeks’ pay between them.
The report suggests that it would cost the government an additional £966m if all eligible new parents took up the scheme. While it seems like a large number, in comparison to the £60bn estimated cost of the government’s furlough scheme, it doesn’t seem quite so big.
While ministers recently rejected the scheme on the grounds that the parental leave scheme in the UK is already superior to that of other countries, committee chair, Catherine McKinnell, is not happy with the response.
“This pandemic is having a huge impact on families and it is clear from the evidence we have taken the huge additional challenges this crisis has presented for many people on maternity, parental and adoption leave,” she said.
“The government must urgently provide much needed additional support for new parents to prevent the effects of the pandemic having a lasting and damaging impact for years to come.”
The conversation is still ongoing.