Open letter backs Creasy call for IPSA to “follow the law on maternity cover”

Sienna Rodgers
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Labour MP Stella Creasy’s call for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) to “follow the law on maternity cover” has been backed by senior figures across the labour movement and women’s organisations.

The opposition backbencher, who is currently pregnant and in hospital with gestational diabetes, has been told by the body that regulates MPs’ pay and expenses that she cannot appoint a locum to provide full maternity cover.

Ian Todd, chief executive of IPSA, has claimed that the “concept of a locum” is “misconceived in relation to an MP” and said IPSA would not provide a budget for the hire – despite having done so when Creasy was pregnant in 2019.

The body has instead suggested that they could provide £35,000 over seven months for extra staff. Yet employees would be expected to escalate matters to the MP, which does not allow Creasy to take proper maternity leave.

Creasy is preparing legal action as a result of IPSA’s response. She has highlighted that full maternity cover is now available to cabinet ministers, after the law was changed this year to allow Suella Braverman to take leave rather than quit her post.

An open letter joining Creasy in urging IPSA to “rethink its approach” has been signed by general secretaries of Labour-affiliated trade unions UNISON’s Christina McAnea, Usdaw’s Paddy Lillis and Community’s Roy Rickhuss, plus Prospect’s Mike Clancy.

The leaders of women’s rights organisations and other charities, including the Fawcett Society, Pregnant then Screwed, Mumsnet, Working Families and Care International, as well as academics and politicians, have also signed the letter.

Creasy was the first MP to appoint a ‘locum’ in 2019. They were paid the equivalent of £50,000 per year and were given a parliamentary pass, though could not speak in the chamber or vote in the House of Commons, with these being covered by a proxy.

“Am still in hospital but this kid needs me to fight for me to be about when it’s born (which will be sooner than I hoped it seems) and other women of childbearing age need not to be shut out of politics,” the Labour MP tweeted today.

Below is the full text of the open letter to IPSA’s chief executive.

Dear Mr Todd,

We write to call upon IPSA to urgently rethink its approach to the provision of maternity and absence cover for Members of parliament. Maternity leave and pay are statutory and hard won rights for all women in the UK – but rights mean nothing if they cannot be realised.

In refusing Stella Creasy MP’s request for a ‘locum’ to cover for her maternity leave, IPSA’s own suggested alternative does not uphold these important rights. By their own admission, they do not intend to provide funding or agreement for anyone to substitute for an MP, either in status or salary. IPSA called the request for such cover ‘misconceived’ and instead suggested they could provide a sum of money for staffing – £35,000 over seven months – which could be used to pay for staff who cannot be given any status to act in the absence of the MP. Instead they expect this person to ‘escalate matters to the MP’, so highlighting the MP will continue to be called upon to undertake duties and so unable to take appropriate maternity leave.

Our concerns about the approach IPSA have taken are as follows:

A lack of transparency in decision making

IPSA have claimed that this approach has been taken as “having discussed this with The House Authorities’ it is clear there is currently no constitutional basis for a ‘locum’ MP role”i To date IPSA have refused to identify who those persons are – whether legal or not – or who has been consulted on this issue within the House. They have not made public any further details of any constitutional or legal advice that they may have received on this matter to justify this claim. We believe any such decisions about what happens when an MP needs to take maternity leave should be open to scrutiny by their constituents and not done behind closed doors.

In this regard, IPSA have been inconsistent in their decision making approach. For example, IPSA have suggested funding could be provided to pay for a senior role who could ‘cover periods of an MPs absence’ but stated such a person could not be a ‘locum’ because they cannot claim to be acting in the absence of an MP even if delegated to do so by the MP. It is not clear why this belief does not therefore apply to all activities undertaken by others in the MPs absence of any staffing grade. In trying to construct this ‘senior’ role, IPSA used a pay benchmarking scheme, which proposed a salary at approximately £25,000 less than an MP. However, it does not use this process to determine how MPs are paid and thus has no MP job description against which to benchmark such a post. We also note that IPSA have stated that were they to provide full cover for an MP they would require additional funding to do so, despite previously stating it had secured a fund to pay for maternity cover. This raises serious questions for the public value for money of IPSA in how it sets either the pay of MPs or manages such funds.

A Role Model for Best Practice

IPSA have argued that they have no responsibility to ensure an MP can take appropriate maternity cover because they are not the employers of MPs. As the organisation that oversees the funding of an MPs office, this has the impact of meaning Parliament does not itself uphold the principles in its own legislation.

The law ensures women are entitled to 52 weeks’ statutory maternity leave, irrespective of length of service. The Court of Appeal has previously confirmed that the purposes of such leave are:

(1) to prepare for and cope with the later stages of pregnancy:
(2) to recuperate from the pregnancy:
(3) to recuperate from the effects of childbirth:
(4) to develop the special relationship between the mother and the newborn child:
(5) to breastfeed the newborn child (recommended for a period of six months by the World Health Organisation): and
(6) to care for the newborn child.

Any arrangements under which the maternity cover available is so inadequate that a new mother has to continue to perform or oversee her role would unlawfully deprive an employee of this statutory entitlement. Whilst a new mother need not take her full 52-week entitlement, it is mandatory that she does take at least the first two weeks following childbirth as leave for the sake of her health and safety. An employer would be guilty of a criminal offence if it allows a new mother to work during this two-week period. We note that the proposal made by IPSA does not specify if separate arrangements are to be made even for this two week period.

This situation is even more unsustainable because of the impact of the Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Act which parliament passed in February 2021. This creates a two-tier system under which those who hold senior positions in parliament as cabinet ministers or senior members of the official opposition receive more generous maternity-related entitlements than others in the same workplace including backbench and opposition MPs. The right to maternity cover is determined not by the role a woman does, but whether she is pregnant, so in any other workplace this situation would be considered discrimination.

IPSA may be independent of parliament, but its actions and attitude have direct consequences. Indeed, we note the chief executive considers paying someone who is on maternity leave their salary for the duration is ‘generous’ rather than what should be offered to all ii. Pledges made to act on pregnancy and maternity discrimination during the debates on the Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Act 2021, including the promise of a Pregnancy and Maternity Taskforce have yet to be actioned by the Government. With evidence that thousands of pregnant women have faced challenges during the pandemic in securing maternity leave, it has never been more important for parliament to be a role model for best practice rather than responsible for undermining the importance of employment protection and pay for new and expectant mothers.

The Consequences for Participation in Public Life and for Equalities Duties

IPSA’s approach has ramifications well beyond any sitting MP – and we note they have not confirmed that even this ‘senior role’ position would be available to assist any other MP, existing or future. The foundation of democracy is equality – not just in the right of all citizens to vote, but all citizens to be able to stand in an election too. Removing barriers to participation is thus crucial to this objective.

We believe IPSA has a duty to ensure that it does not create discriminatory barriers to participation through its policies. We note IPSA’s statement made in 2019 that

“As a public body, IPSA seeks to promote equality and diversity in the exercise of our functions. We seek to ensure that the funding we provide gives all MPs and staff an equal opportunity to perform their parliamentary role and that they do not suffer detriment related to any protected characteristics as a result of our rules.“ iii

In the absence of like-for-like maternity cover, any MP faces significant challenges in terms of ensuring that her constituents are, and know that they are, properly represented and championed during her absence. Any reduction in the quality of representation during this time, perceived or actual, is likely to undermine the MP’s standing among her constituents. This could also discourage voters from supporting candidates who are of childbearing age for fear of suffering the same loss of representation should such a candidate decide to start a family during their term of office.

We urge IPSA to reconsider what it has proposed to assist MPs seeking maternity cover and to instead uphold best practice on this issue. Whilst we recognise IPSA is independent of Parliament in its decision making, this does not absolve it of responsibility for the consequences of its failure to uphold value for money or the principles of maternity cover for the benefit of our economy and our democracy.

i Letter to Stella Creasy, 14th May 2021
ii Letter to Stella Creasy, 11th June 2021
iii Response to Freedom of Information Request by IPSA made 22nd July 2019

Professor Sylvia Bashevkin, University of Toronto, Author of Women, Power, Politics: The Hidden Story of Canada’s Unfinished Democracy
Maria Booker, Birth Rights
Joeli Brearley, Founder, Pregnant then Screwed
Dr Shardia Briscoe-Palmer, Co-convenor, UK PSA women and politics group
Georgina Calvert-Lee, McAlister Olivarius
Professor Sarah Childs, Author, The Good Parliament Report
Mike Clancy, General Secretary, Prospect Union
Kelly Dittmar, Associate Professor of Political Science and CAWP Scholar, Rutgers University–Camden
Associate Professor Josefina Erikso, Department of Government, Uppsala Universitet
Sally Hodgson, Raising Films
Paddy Lillis, General Secretary, Usdaw
Sophie Livingstone, CEO Little Village
Becca Lyon, Save the Children
Kiran Mahil, Secretary, Labour Women’s Network
Christina McAnea, General Secretary, UNISON
Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu, Founder, Women in Leadership
Jennifer Nadel, Co-Director, Compassion in Politics
Kirsten Oswald, On behalf of SNP
Dr Sonia Palmieri, Gender Policy Fellow, The Australian National University
Helen Pankhurst, Convenor, Centenary Action Group
Bryony Parsons, PiPA Campaign
Associate Professor Tracey Raney PhD, Ryerson University, Toronto
Dr Laura Richards-Gray, co-convenor, UK PSA women and politics group
Roy Rickhuss, General Secretary, Community Union
Justine Roberts, Mumsnet
Dr Mary-Ann Stephenson, Director, UK Women’s Budget Group
Hannah Swirsky, Care International
Sue Tibballs, Sheila McKenzie Foundation
Jane van Zyl, Chief Executive, Working Families
Sophie Walker, Founder, Women’s Equality Party, Activate
Anne Wellington, Lib Dem Campaign for Gender Balance and Liberal Democrat Women
Anna Whitehouse, MotherPukka
Felicia Willow, Chief Executive, Fawcett Society

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