As we celebrate Suella Braverman’s maternity leave, we must also guarantee the rights of all new parents
The conversation around "Suella's Law" allows us the chance to shine a light on the plight of other new parents around the UK, writes Harriet Harman MP | PA Images
Those of us who’ve had the privilege of getting to the top while having babies are honour-bound to help all women enjoy the same – starting with pay and shared parental leave
Suella Braverman is having her second baby any time now. She’s also the Attorney General. It’s only a good thing that government is a team of women and men. It sends a terrible message to women in the country if all key decisions have to be made by men. And, as we know, women are more likely than not to have babies. When they do they physically can’t be doing their job when they are giving birth and in the immediate aftermath they should be able to have time off to bond with and care for the new baby in the early months. Having a baby should no longer mean that you have to give up your work or take a step down on the career ladder. But that, for many, is still the choice.
It takes a lot to get to be Attorney General and I don’t think Suella Braverman should have to give up her office because she’s having a baby. But the role of Attorney is important and there needs to be someone doing it at all times. So it’s a “no-brainer” that the government should appoint a maternity replacement.
There’s a statutory limit on the number of cabinet ministers who can be on the payroll so to have a maternity replacement needs new legislation.
Once again we must insist on more progress
The government could have just ducked this and spread the role round other ministers. But that would have been to undermine the office of Attorney General and a bad thing. They could have asked Suella Braverman to keep a “watching brief” on her office while off with the new baby. But that would have been wrong all round, to the office of Attorney, to Suella as a new mother and to her baby. So, I’m glad the government has made an open decision to ask Parliament to provide for maternity leave for ministers.
Senior civil servants have six months paid leave so that’s where they plan to set it.
This move by the government offers an opportunity for us to once again focus on the wholly inadequate level of Maternity Allowance and Statutory Maternity pay, the lack of employment protection for women on maternity leave and the woefully low level of take up by fathers of parental leave because most men can’t afford to take it. And once again we must insist on more progress.
We need to show there’s no contradiction for a man to be both committed to his job and committed to his role as a father
Parliament giving rights to women to reconcile their family responsibilities with their role in government is a good thing. It’s setting a good example and will encourage other women in senior positions to demand the same. But to make it feel fair it must be accompanied by some more changes for women as a whole.
We’ve seen Jacinda Ardern take maternity leave while in office as prime minister of New Zealand. The more we recognise the importance of women being able to combine work and family – and change the rules to make that possible – the better. I hope the government will add the right for ministerial fathers to take paternity leave. We need to show there’s no contradiction for a man to be both committed to his job and committed to his role as a father.
I wish Suella all the best for her second baby. And I hope that “Suella’s law” will mean that our Attorney General turns into a dogged champion for the maternity rights of all women in this country. Those of us who’ve had the privilege of getting to the top and being able to keep our job at the same time as having babies are honour bound to strive to help all women, especially those who struggle to make ends meet, do the same.
Harriet Harman is Labour MP for Camberwell and Peckham and Mother of the House