The Women and Equalities Committee (WEC) released a report today that revealed the increasing levels of discrimination against pregnant women and those on maternity leave. The report has led to MPs demanding urgent action from the government; requesting a detailed plan to end discrimination with clear recommendations to prevent discriminatory redundancies, zero hour contracts and improve health and safety practices.
The recent report built upon research carried out by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) that found both increasing levels of discrimination against pregnant women and that more than three quarters of women surveyed had experienced a negative or potentially discriminatory experience as a result of their pregnancy or maternity. The WEC report further noted a rise in the risk of pregnant women and mothers being ‘forced’ out of work.
Maria Miller, committee chair, says: "The arrival of a new baby puts family finances under extreme pressure yet, despite this, thousands of expectant and new mothers have no choice but to leave their work because of concerns about the safety of their child or pregnancy discrimination. Shockingly this figure has almost doubled in the last decade, now standing at 54,000.”
This crisis in discrimination needs targeted and thought through action by the government in order to bring about greater equality for pregnant women and mothers.
Miller continues: "The Government's approach to improving compliance with pregnancy and maternity discrimination law has been confusing. It has stated that it is important to focus on enforcement and yet its main policy focus is awareness-raising and persuasion. It has voiced concern about the low numbers of women taking enforcement action against their employer, but has rejected the EHRC's recommendations to remove unfair barriers to justice and has no plans to ease the burden of enforcement on women.”
This sounds very much like a case of government leading from behind, advocating the correct way to do things, while in effect making the victims of discrimination responsible for seeking support and successfully fighting a legal battle against employers.
On this note Miller says: “The Government's approach has lacked urgency and bite. It needs to set out a detailed plan outlining the specific actions it will take to tackle this unacceptable level of discrimination. This work must be underpinned by concrete targets and changes to laws and protections to increase compliance by employers to improve women's lives."
The ‘urgency, bite and change of protections’ is a call to see the government leading the case against discrimination for pregnant women and mothers rather than allowing the legal burden to fall entirely on to the heads of victims.
Bringing an end to rising discrimination requires more than shouting support from the side-lines; it requires compassionate leadership: not just talk, but action.