§ Mr. Tom Benyon
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he is now in a position to make a statement on the result of the consultations on the future of maternity benefits; and if he will make a statement.
§ Mrs. Chalker
The Government are most grateful to those organisations and individuals who responded to the consultative document "A Fresh Look at Maternity Benefits". Over 200 representations were received.
The main conclusion drawn from the representations is that there is no consensus in favour of redistributing the existing amounts spent on cash maternity benefits.511W
We were particularly grateful for the comments of the Select Committee on Social Services. It recommended that maternity pay and maternity allowance be merged into a single payment to be made by the employer and that the level of this be set so as to allow resources to be freed to increase the maternity grant in a selective way. While the Government regard the possibility of merging the two weekly allowances as an open question, it is clear that the consensus at present is that it would be wrong simply to redistribute existing resources to the disadvantage of working women. My right hon. Friend has written to the Chairman of the Select Committee in response to the Committee's report.
Of the three options for change discussed in the document, most support went to that which would abolish maternity pay and use the resources thus released to increase maternity grant for all confinements, while the present arrangements for maternity allowance continued. However, the main weight of representations favoured retaining all three benefits for the time being on the ground that it would be unjust to increase maternity grant at the expense of the benefits and rights provided for working women. As the consultative document made clear, the Government had come to no firm conclusions about the desirability of altering the pattern of benefits by a redistribution of existing resources. However, as a result of the representations, it has now been decided that no radical changes should be made for the time being.
Accordingly, in the coming legislation about employers' statutory sick pay, the Government will simply propose that employers will not have to pay any sick pay during the maternity allowance period; national insurance maternity benefits and maternity pay will continue to be provided as at present.