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Complacency on maternity discrimination betrays the crusaders who came before us

3 min read

If the UK is to be a truly equal society, then women should not have to choose between having children or progressing their careers, argues Sharon Hodgson MP.

Maternity discrimination is an issue which Labour has valiantly campaigned against for many years – as we have with many equalities issues.

Far too often, women who become pregnant face hurdles in life that they should not have to overcome. According to the government’s own figures, 54,000 women are forced out of their jobs each year because of being a mother or becoming pregnant. This amounts to 1 in every 9 women.

If this statistic was replicated here in Westminster, then we would have seen 21 of our fellow female MPs forced out; we would be up in arms, raising merry hell on the floor of the House. Well, if it’s not acceptable for women in this place, it’s not acceptable for women in any workplace.

Research from the Equality and Human Rights Commission found that 77% of women surveyed had a negative or possibly discriminatory experience when it came to pregnancy, maternity leave or returning to work following leave.

For all of these reasons, I was very pleased to secure a debate on this important topic, which falls one week after International Women’s Day and a just over a week ahead of Mother’s Day, so we can highlight this persistent problem in our workplaces but also its wider impact on society.

Allowing maternity discrimination to continue not only impacts our economy by forcing women out of work, thus making workplaces less productive due to the focus on recruiting new staff members and seeing a reduction in Government tax revenues because women are out of work, but also on the equality issues that it highlights. If we are to truly be an equal society, then women should not be forced to choose between having children or having a career progress at the same rate as their male counterparts.

Last August, the Women and Equalities Select Committee published a report which made many recommendations for the Government to consider to find ways to end maternity discrimination in our workplaces. Yet, when the Government finally responded in January of this year, they failed to grasp the scale of the problem we see.

Whilst the Government committed themselves to zero-tolerance of discrimination against expectant or new mothers in the workplace and announced a consultation into protections against redundancy for pregnant women, the response was on the whole inadequate. It is clear that the Government sees this as an issue for another day.

But this is not the case. Maternity discrimination is happening now and we must act now to address it.

As women MPs who stand on the shoulders of those who came before us who crusaded to improve women’s position in society, we cannot stand back and be complacent.

This is not just because this would fail the women who currently face this discrimination in the workplace, but for the many young women who will enter the workplace in the future and not expect to be discriminated against because of their gender.

This is why it is our duty, at this point in history, to act to make our voices heard on behalf of all those who don’t have one under the oppression of discrimination. 

Sharon Hodgson is the Labour Member of Parliament for Washington and Sunderland West and is the Shadow Minister for Public Health

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