For expectant mothers there’s so much to think about – and so much to prepare for. In amongst those many thoughts and all the excitement are also some concerns, not least the serious worries for many about what will happen at work.
I know a lot of mothers reading this right now will not be surprised to hear findings from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) showing that one in nine pregnant or new mothers are dismissed or treated so badly that they feel they have to leave their job. Nor will they be shocked that one in five in experience harassment related to their pregnancy, maternity leave or flexible working, or that one in ten are discouraged from attending antenatal appointments by their boss.
For so many mothers those statistics are their lived reality – yet those who do find themselves the target of discrimination will face a second obstacle if they try to access the justice they deserve. The current time limit for making a tribunal claim is just three months. It is absurd to expect all new mums to be able to make claims so quickly after giving birth. In March 2016 the EHRC made the welcome recommendation that this time be extended to six months, and received backing from the Women and Equalities Committee in the months that followed. But in January this year in a move which lacked common sense the Government rejected the committee’s advice.
Today I joined the ‘March of the Mummies’ which saw campaigners gather for demos across the country calling on the Government to give mothers more time to access justice. The huge numbers of MPs signing a Parliamentary Motion I tabled on the issue shows that there’s cross-party support on this issue too.
But we shouldn’t stop there. As well as seeking to extend the time limit for tribunal claims the March of the Mummies was urging MPs to seriously consider new policies to protect women from discrimination. Steps such as requiring companies to report how many flexible working requests are made and granted, giving both parents access to six weeks parental leave paid at 90% of their salary, giving the self-employed access to statutory shared parental pay, and subsidising childcare from six months old could all help make workplaces fairer for women.
It’s not rocket science. The Government know that this discrimination is widespread. Yet it’s failing to make simple changes which would give mums access to the justice they deserve.So let’s take this simple step and extend the time limit – and then let’s explore bold options which will help build modern family-friendly economy fit for the future.
Caroline Lucas is the co-leader of the Green Party and MP for Brighton Pavilion