In the slight lull in news about Brexit and the Conservative party leadership contest, papers have finally been able to report on other stories, although they may not always stray far from Westminster.
In June, Labour MP Stella Creasy announced that she was expecting a baby. Although she kept her previous pregnancies (both of which ended in miscarriage) private, this time she drew attention to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA), which ‘does not recognise’ maternity leave for MPs (Creasy, 2019). The reason is that MPs are considered ‘elected representatives’ rather than ‘employees’ and are not governed by employment law (The Guardian, 2019). Although there are arrangements to cover MPs work inside the voting chamber (such as pairing and a trial of voting by proxy), no human or financial resources are provided for MPs' work in their constituencies (Creasy, 2019).
The Conservative MP Kemi Badenoch, who is also pregnant, has argued that MPs are treated comparatively well, saying, for example, that an MP receives their annual salary of £79 468 throughout parental leave, while statutory maternity pay is £148 a week (Badenoch, 2019; BBC News, 2019). Ms Badenoch has also suggested that the budget of £150 000 that MPs receive for staffing could be used to cover absence (BBC News, 2019), and Liberal Democrat Jo Swinson (2018), cited the ease with which MPs are able to manage their diaries, compared to others.
Other MPs have said that even if they are able to deputise their constituency workload, as an unelected representative, their deputy would not be able to vote in Parliament. This can lead to extreme measures, such as delaying a caesarean section and voting in a wheelchair, as Tulip Siddiq did earlier this year, or leading public meetings rather than attending hospital for the management of a miscarriage, as in the case of Stella Creasy (2019). The alternative is to abstain from voting, which can lead to ‘a torrent of abuse’ (Vaz, 2018) from constituents who do not feel represented, especially at a time when local issues are subsumed by international ones.
In many ways, it is hard to apply MPs' situation—with their abnormal hours, relative flexibility and huge salaries—to that of the ‘ordinary’ working woman, but this case demonstrates that salary is no substitute for being allowed the time to act in accordance with medical advice. Both Siddiq and Creasy were obliged to ignore health professionals in favour of work, due to the lack of maternity protection for female MPs. IPSA's excuse, claims Ms Siddiq, was that they ‘have not got a historic policy on that because we have not had many women in parliament who give birth’ (Elgot, 2019). Admittedly, women have not always been in Parliament (only 100 years!) but women have always given birth. Providing protected time for the essential and unavoidable requirements of becoming a parent does a disservice to both male and female MPs, and by extension, to the electors whom they represent.