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General Election 2015: the manifestos are out

Helen Beecher Bryant : April 21, 2015 3:08 pm : News

Last week, the General Election campaign entered its final phase, with all three main political parties publishing their election manifestos. And we’ve been measuring them up against our own policy manifesto, Valuing families, valuing maternity.

First out of the blocks, on Monday, was Labour, with an 85-page document entitled Britain can be better. This sets out several policy pledges on issues highlighted in our manifesto.

There is welcome recognition that the employment tribunal fees of up to £1,200 introduced by the Coalition in July 2013 have created “a significant barrier to workplace justice”. A Labour government would “abolish the employment tribunal fee system as part of wider reforms to make sure that affordability is not a barrier to workers having proper access to justice, employers get a quicker resolution, and the costs to the tax payer do not rise”. And, in its separate Manifesto for Work, issued two weeks earlier, Labour adds: “We will ask Acas to oversee a process led by the CBI and the TUC to agree reforms to the system”. However, this fails to spell out whether Labour would abolish fees outright, or introduce an alternative fees system. And it raises questions about how long the Acas-led reform process would take, and whether the current fees would remain in place in the meantime.

There is disappointingly no mention of the ‘childcare gap’ between the end of paid maternity leave (or shared parental leave) and the start of entitlement to free childcare. But the manifesto does pledge an expansion of “free childcare from 15 to 25 hours per week for working parents of three and four-year-olds, paid for with an increase in the bank levy” and “a legal guarantee for parents of primary school children to access wraparound childcare from 8am to 6pm through their local primary school”. The manifesto adds that “this will be underpinned by a new National Primary Childcare Service, a not-for-profit organisation to promote the voluntary and charitable delivery of quality extracurricular activities”.

On midwifery and maternal mental health services, the manifesto commits Labour to “invest in 20,000 more nurses, 8,000 more GPs, and 3,000 more midwives”. And, in a blogpost published a few days before the manifesto, Labour pledges “guaranteed personalised one-to-one care from a midwife” and explains that “this guarantee will be made possible by our commitment to recruit 3,000 more midwives by 2020 – through our £2.5bn Time to Care Fund, funded through a mansion tax on properties over £2m, tackling tax avoidance and a new levy on tobacco firms”. While some have noted that “the full benefits of personalised care will not be achieved by this election pledge”, it certainly amounts to a very significant investment in midwifery services, and as such is very welcome. The full manifesto also pledges that “mental health will be given the same priority as physical health, with a new right to access talking therapies”.

The manifesto re-iterates Labour’s previously announced pledge to “double the current two weeks of paternity leave to four weeks, and increase the amount of paternity pay from £140 to more than £260 a week”. And, noting that “many grandparents want to be more involved in caring for their grandchildren”, there is a commitment to “support them in doing so”. This was amplified two days later, with a separate Manifesto for Women stating that a Labour government would “consult on allowing grandparents … to share in parents’ unpaid parental leave, enabling them to take time off work without fear of losing their job”.

Last but by no means least, the manifesto states that a Labour government would “end the indefinite detention of people in the asylum and immigration system, ending detention for pregnant women and those who have been the victims of sexual abuse or trafficking”.

On Tuesday, it was the turn of the Conservatives, with an 84-page document entitled, Strong leadership; a clear economic plan; a brighter, more secure future. On childcare, this matches Labour’s core offer by pledging to “give families where all parents are working an entitlement to 30 hours of free childcare for their three and four year-olds”, and commits a Conservative government to implementing the Coalition’s tax-free childcare scheme.

While there is no specific pledge to invest in midwifery or maternal mental health services, the manifesto states: “We have legislated to ensure that mental and physical health conditions are given equal priority. We will now go further, ensuring that there are therapists in every part of the country providing treatment for those who need it. We are increasing funding for mental health care … [and] we will ensure that women have access to mental health support during and after pregnancy, while strengthening the health visiting programme for new mothers”.

Come Wednesday, the Liberal Democrats joined the fray with a whopping, 160-page tome entitled, Stronger economy; fairer society; opportunity for everyone. On childcare, the manifesto sets out a bold (and very welcome) ambition to “extend free childcare to all two-year-olds” and “the children of all working parents from the end of paid parental leave (nine months) to two years”. However, it’s not entirely clear when this ambition might be achieved, or how it would be funded.

There are also welcome pledges to “expand Shared Parental Leave with a ‘use it or lose it’ month for fathers, and introduce a right to paid leave for carers”. But there’s no suggestion that this extra parental leave for fathers would be paid at more than the current £138.00 per week, equivalent to just 60 per cent of the minimum wage. On the plus side, the manifesto states: “While changes to parental leave should be introduced slowly to give business time to adjust, our ambition is to see Paternity and Shared Parental Leave become a ‘day one’ right”.

On employment tribunal (ET) fees, there’s a somewhat vague pledge to “improve the enforcement of employment rights, reviewing ET fees to ensure they are not a barrier”. However, earlier this month, the Coalition’s employment relations minister and now Liberal Democrat candidate Jo Swinson wrote that “there is a real concern that bonafide claims are being unheard due to workers being unable to afford fees, [so] we would review the level of tribunal fees to ensure that they do not prohibit people from making bona fide claims. A nominal fee could be appropriate to not unduly deter sound claims.”

Somewhat disappointingly, the three parties between them manage just one single mention of breastfeeding in their combined 330-pages of manifesto pledges, with the Liberal Democrats saying they would “review the support and advice available for parents on early child nutrition and breastfeeding”. And no manifesto mentions the particular childcare challenge faced by single parents and parents of disabled children.

There is also surprisingly little mention of flexible working, with the phrase again appearing only once, in the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto (and even that is just a reference to the Coalition’s extension of the right to request flexible working, in 2014). None of the three parties pledges extra funding for the specialist information and advice services women need to help protect their rights, and only one (again, the Liberal Democrats) mentions welfare support for asylum seekers. And no party has taken up our call for maternity care to be exempted from the NHS charging regime.

On the plus side, both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats pledge to exempt statutory maternity, paternity and parental pay (and, presumably, maternity allowance) from a continuing one per cent cap on the annual uprating of welfare benefits. We would much prefer to see that cap scrapped entirely, of course.

Overall, then, some welcome manifesto pledges from each of the three main parties, but a lot of campaigning work yet to be done to ensure that the next government values families and maternity.

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Valuing families, valuing maternity – our manifesto

Helen Beecher Bryant : March 12, 2015 11:55 am : News

Amid the biggest living standards crisis in a generation, pregnant women and new mothers have been hit especially hard. They and their families have borne the brunt of cuts to government services and social security benefits, including the closure of Sure Start centres, cuts to NHS maternity care funding, and below inflation uprating of Statutory Maternity Pay and Maternity Allowance – already well below the national minimum wage.

Working mothers have seen their real wages fall, while the cost of childcare has spiralled upwards. Unfair – and unlawful – treatment of pregnant women and new mothers at work has become more common than ever before. In sectors such as social care, catering, cleaning, and hospitality, hundreds of thousands of women are employed on contracts that offer little in the way of pay and job security, let alone basic maternity rights. Widespread job insecurity and falling real wages have also reduced the likelihood of shared parenting within families, entrenching outdated gender roles and blocking progress towards more equal labour force participation rates. This is bad for women, for business, and for the economy as a whole. In the run-up to the general election on 7 May, politicians of all parties will claim to value families, and their manifestos will each set out an offer intended to attract the ‘family’ vote. However, Maternity Action believes the next government must do more than value families – it must also value maternity.

Our manifesto sets out a series of policy actions for doing just that, under three headings: Maternity and Work; Maternity and Justice; and Maternity and Healthcare. In particular, we call on the next government to:

– Raise statutory maternity, paternity and parental pay to at least the minimum wage by 2020
– Abolish (or at least substantially lower) employment tribunal fees
– Adopt ‘flexible by default’ job design in the public sector
– Introduce a proper legal right to breastfeed in the workplace
– Close the ‘childcare gap’ between the end of maternity leave and the start of entitlement to free childcare
– Increase funding of midwifery and maternal mental health services

Read Maternity Action’s General Election manifesto ‘Valuing Families, Valuing Maternity’ here.

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Know your rights – get your rights!

Helen Beecher Bryant : January 14, 2015 8:13 pm : News

Too many people don’t know their rights at work. And, pregnancy and childbirth not being everyday events, awareness and understanding of the associated workplace rights and benefits is even poorer. Worse still, there are limited sources of guidance for pregnant women and new parents.

Maternity Action produces over 50 information sheets on maternity rights at work, maternity benefits, and breastfeeding rights, which are downloaded more than 10,000 times every month. And our telephone advice line logs some 2,500 calls every year. But that is 20 times more calls than we are able to answer with current resources. Clearly, the demand for information and advice greatly exceeds the supply.

Over the next few weeks, therefore, we are going to be using social media to highlight five key maternity-related rights that are especially overlooked or poorly understood, not least by employers. Accessing one or more of these rights can make an enormous difference to the experience of women and their families, but they may not be among the first rights that spring to mind.

Not everyone knows, for example, that all pregnant employees – including part-timers – are entitled to paid time off for antenatal care. They cannot be asked to make up the hours, and cannot be asked to use annual leave or flexi-time. And ‘antenatal care’ isn’t just medical appointments such as scans – it can also include antenatal or parenting classes if recommended by a doctor or midwife. What’s more, the father or pregnant woman’s partner also has a right to unpaid time off work to go to two antenatal appointments.

Calls to our advice line also suggest that it is not widely known that it is against the law to make a woman redundant simply because of her pregnancy. In fact, being selected for redundancy because you are pregnant or have taken maternity leave is unlawful discrimination.

Few women – and even fewer employers – seem to know that you do not have to repay any Statutory Maternity Pay, even if you resign during your maternity leave. This includes both the higher rate for the six weeks after the birth, and the flat rate for up to 33 weeks. And employers claim the SMP back from the Government, so they are not left out of pocket.

Similarly, the fact that women from abroad can claim SMP or Maternity Allowance (subject to meeting the qualifying conditions) is not well-known, leading to many such women assuming – or being wrongly told – that they have no entitlement. It does not matter if you have ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ stamped in your passport, as SMP and MA are not ‘public funds’.

And last – but by no means least – we never fail to be surprised how few women know that breastfeeding in the workplace is protected by law. It’s true that there is no explicit legal right to breastfeeding breaks and facilities upon return to work – we’d very much like to see one introduced! However, employers must meet their obligations to a breastfeeding employee under health and safety, flexible working, and anti-discrimination law. And, not only is it simple and inexpensive for employers to do so, but it brings real business benefits such as increased productivity and staff loyalty.

So, know your rights, get your rights!

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Valuing families? The impact of cuts to maternity benefits since 2010

Helen Beecher Bryant : November 11, 2014 2:26 pm : News

Download PDF of this information page

Since 2010, the Government has made a series of cuts to benefits and statutory payments targeted at or available to pregnant women and parents of children aged up to 12 months, including freezing and means-testing Child Benefit, abolishing the Health in Pregnancy Grant, and capping the annual up-rating of Statutory Maternity (and Paternity) Pay and Maternity Allowance.

By 2014, these cuts added up to £1.5 billion per year.

Pregnant women and new parents are already facing a difficult environment. The cost of living has increased significantly since the economic downturn began, and wage increases have not kept pace. Pregnancy discrimination in the workplace is forcing as many as 60,000 women out of work each year, and tribunal fees of up to £1,200 have severely restricted access to justice. More than 600 Sure Start centres have closed since 2010, and maternity services are under increasing pressure as staffing fails to keep pace with the increasing birth rate and growing number of complex pregnancies.

This report concludes that these cuts are exacerbating the high rate of poverty among new families, including those in the workforce, and are contributing to the growth in personal debt. Financial pressures are forcing some women to return to work from maternity leave earlier than they would like. And take-up of leave by fathers and partners is affected by family incomes, further reducing the likelihood of shared parenting. This entrenches the division of caring responsibilities and halts progress in reducing the gender pay gap.

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Launch of Alliance Against Pregnancy Discrimination manifesto 2015

Helen Beecher Bryant : October 2, 2014 10:37 am : News

In December 2013, a Maternity Action report – Overdue: a plan of action to address pregnancy discrimination now – concluded that pregnancy and maternity discrimination is now more common in UK workplaces than ever before, with as many as 60,000 women forced out of their job each year.

It is also harder than ever to challenge such discrimination: the supply of free legal advice has been decimated by funding cuts and the abolition of almost all civil legal aid. And, since July 2013, upfront fees of up to £1,200 to pursue an employment tribunal claim for pregnancy, maternity or sex discrimination have had a devastating impact on women’s access to justice.

With pregnant women, new mothers and their families also facing the biggest living standards crisis in a generation, the new government elected in May 2015 needs to take robust action on this issue. The scale of the problem – and the detrimental impact on women, their families, and on gender equality – demands a collective response by ministers right across government.

To this end, the Alliance Against Pregnancy Discrimination – the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, the Family and Childcare Trust, the Fawcett Society, Maternity Action, NCT, the Royal College of Midwives, the TUC, the unions UNISON and Unite, Working Families, and YESS – has drawn up a manifesto, setting out eight key policy actions for the government elected next year.

Take action in support of the AAPD manifesto for May 2015

National organisations can support the AAPD manifesto by joining the Alliance and participating in our lobbying activity. Please email richarddunstan@maternityaction.org.uk

Individuals and local or regional organisation can support the AAPD manifesto by writing to each of the general election candidates in their parliamentary constituency, including the sitting MP if they are standing for re-election in May 2015, urging candidates to support the 8 policy actions set out in the AAPD manifesto.

You can find contact details for your local MP here. For other candidates, you can either wait until you receive an election leaflet or flyer (which will contain contact details for the candidate), or you can research the names and contact details of candidates by contacting each of the party head offices. Note that some parties may not yet have selected their candidate for your constituency.

Please enclose a printed copy of the AAPD manifesto with your letter (or, if emailing, attach the manifesto pdf to your email). Use the manifesto to draft your covering letter (or email), and include the following points:

  • Pregnancy and maternity discrimination is now more common in UK workplaces than ever before.
  • As many as 60,000 women were forced out of work by pregnancy or maternity discrimination in 2014.
  • Economic ‘hard times’ are no excuse for employers to flout the law.

Thank you for your support.

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Recognising good employers

Helen Beecher Bryant : August 20, 2014 2:17 pm : News

Did you have a positive experience of pregnancy at work, maternity leave and return to work? We’d like to hear from you.

Maternity Action is working in partnership with Your Employment Settlement Service (YESS) collecting case studies of employers who did a good job of managing maternity at work.  We are working with the Equality and Human Rights Commission to recognise these employers so we can encourage more employers to get it right.

The sorts of things we are interested in are:

  • proper health and safety assessment and adjustments to working hours and conditions, if needed
  • reducing stress and physical demands of work during pregnancy
  • paying more than the statutory minimum in maternity pay. The statutory minimum is 90% of income for 6 weeks then 33 weeks at £137/week.
  • good use of Keeping In Touch days during maternity leave, such as helping you to keep up to date, access training or do some work
  • flexible working arrangements that work for you, such as part time hours, working from home, compressed hours
  • making it possible for you to continue breastfeeding on return to work, either with facilities in the workplace or through flexible working hours to enable you to be home when you need to breastfeed

We are interested in hearing about smaller employers as well as larger ones and about employers in Wales, Scotland and England.  Read more about the project here.

Please email us on showcasingemployers@maternityaction.org.uk or call Camilla Palmer on 020 3701 7531

 

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Showcasing employers solving the practical challenges of managing maternity

MaternityAction : August 20, 2014 9:23 am : News

Employers – have you managed a pregnant woman or new mother in recent years?  We would like to hear from you.

Maternity Action is working in partnership with Your Employment Settlement Service (YESS) to collect case studies of employers who have found solutions to some of the practical challenges of managing pregnant women and new mothers at work.  The case studies will be profiled in a campaign run by the Equality and Human Rights Commission in 2015.

We are looking for a mixture of small, medium and large employers, employers from different industries and those managing women in part time, full time and shift-worker roles across England, Scotland and Wales.

Many of the case studies we will be showcasing are common sense solutions to management challenges.  We know that a lot of employers are uncertain about how best to manage pregnant or new mothers, and we are hoping that these case studies will make it easier for them.

Download a summary here and find out more at http://www.maternityaction.org.uk/wp/advice-2/advice/showcasingemployers/

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Charging vulnerable migrant women for NHS care

MaternityAction : July 7, 2014 1:26 pm : News
Maternity Action has released a briefing and podcast on charging vulnerable migrant women for NHS maternity care and the impact of the Immigration Act 2014.
Aimed at midwives and others with an interest in improving health outcomes, the briefing outlines existing charging rules and examines the impact on health risks and the woman’s relationship of trust with her midwife.  The briefing considers arguments about cost savings to the NHS and explores how charging policies fit with strategies to reduce maternity health inequalities.
You can read and listen to them here
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Free training on maternity rights and benefits

MaternityAction : June 13, 2014 12:31 pm : News

Maternity Action has developed a series of webinar-based training courses on maternity rights and benefits for advice workers, midwives and other health workers.  We are offering free places while we pilot the training, and you can sign up here https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/SW9LVJJ   

Places are limited.

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Podcast on access to primary care

MaternityAction : May 27, 2014 5:32 pm : News, Uncategorized
Maternity Action released a podcast about their new report, Women’s voices on health: addressing barriers to accessing primary care. You can listen to it here.
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