Stella Creasy’s lawsuit on maternity rights shows up archaic MP role

Labour MP Stella Creasy wants the same maternity rights afforded to the rest of the UK child-bearing population in employment – including ministers. The rulings for MPs show the machinations of the rules governing members of parliament are patriarchal and just downright discriminatory. Illegal were they to apply to any other workplace, the lawsuit can’t come soon enough. 

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) has told Creasy that her role “cannot – in legal and constitutional terms – be undertaken by someone else”. Yet Ministers are afforded the same rights as other UK employees and are entitled to 6 months’ of maternity leave on their usual, full pay and their roles are covered for them. 

They also said “Constitutionally, no one can take on the full roles and responsibilities of a member of parliament, who is an office holder elected by the general public,” they said in a statement. “It is up to parliament to decide if the law should be changed.”

Creasy is currently unwell, telling LBC that she has gestational diabetes and was finding her second pregnancy difficult. Her first child was born just before the general election in 2019 and she used a pilot scheme to support her maternity leave. Her “Locum MP” could not vote nor sit in the Commons. Her votes were performed by a “proxy” which is an MP who was permitted to vote for her. At the time, Creasy was scathing of the government’s lack of action on the matter, and said “As yet Parliament has still to get its act together to come up with a policy on this area and has not yet even begun to consult on the issue as promised, but this post means residents in Walthamstow can be confident that when my child is born they will still have someone to take up their cases with ministers, local public services and an advocate for the causes they care about.”

However, even the Locum MP arrangement is not available to her now and Ipsa told her that, instead, she could hire extra staff at a maximum cost of £60,000 who would decide what to escalate to her. As with the Locum MP, certain duties, like taking part in parliamentary debates, could only be done by her. She is entitled to take the full six months’ maternity leave on full pay, but if she does so, she argues, her constituents will be short changed and left without representation. 

For that reason, Creasy’s argument is about more than just her and her family. She feels that not only will she and her children suffer if she is not entitled to the same leave as all other employees – but her constituents will too. She will have a foot in both camps, in limbo, feeling she must keep abreast of her work whilst wrestling with the responsibilities of becoming a mother for the second time.

Moreover, she feels that this is likely to mean discrimination from voters against candidates of “childbearing age”. Creasy feels that the choice before her is to either be a mother or be an MP – one which is totally unfair and anachronistic. Bearing in mind the leaps and bounds in maternity rights since maternity leave was first introduced in the Employment Act 1975, it seems mad that the same rights are not afforded to Creasy when proper maternity leave would have been something her own mother would have been entitled to, since it passed into law two years before Creasy was born. 

In February, the law was updated to allow the attorney general to take maternity leave. Before the law changed, Suella Braverman would have had to resign from her role to take time off after giving birth. The Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill was passed to allow Cabinet Ministers six months’ fully paid maternity leave. However, there is no such allowance for paternity, adoption or shared parental leave. 

At the time, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said “The choice between taking leave to recover from childbirth and care for a new-born child or resigning from office is not acceptable in modern times”, yet the rules meaning that MPs cannot take maternity leave remain in place. 

Currently, maternity leave entitles one to up to 52 weeks’ leave and women and birthing people must take at least two weeks’ leave after the birth. If you work in a factory, you must take 4 weeks. 

When even the Prime Minister admits that it’s unacceptable that someone should have to choose between recovery from birth and one’s calling in office, you have to agree that it’s high time this outdated law was changed. Continuing to uphold this discriminatory policy only serves to further increase the disparity between the gender divide in power.

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