Charity dropped from government advisory board after critical tweets

An employment rights charity has been dropped from a government advisory board in an apparent row about critical tweets.

Maternity Action was invited to advise the government on pregnancy and maternity discrimination last year, but officials have since removed the charity from its role. 

Third Sector understands that when officials told Maternity Action about its removal, they referred to tweets sent by the charity’s chief executive, Ros Bragg, which criticised the advisory board’s narrow focus.

The Department for Business, Enterprise and Industrial Strategy did not deny that its decision was based on Bragg’s tweets.

Maternity Action said the reasons for the charity’s removal had never been “adequately explained” by government officials. 

The charity also indicated that it still hoped to attend future meetings of the advisory board.

The board has only met once, in September last year, even though it is supposed to convene four times a year.

The government initially agreed to bring together charities and other experts on maternity and employment discrimination in 2017, when ministers acknowledged the need to “further strengthen existing protections” for employment rights relating to pregnant women

Two years later, BEIS pledged that the department would “establish a taskforce of employer and family representative groups”, which would then “make recommendations on what improvements can be made to the information available to employers and families on pregnancy and maternity discrimination.

It said: “It will also develop an action plan on what steps the government and other organisations can take to make it easier for pregnant women and new mothers to stay in work.”

But no taskforce was created. The advisory board established instead in 2021 has a much narrower role and does not consider how changes to legislation might help pregnant women in the workforce access their rights.

Voicing her frustration about this on Twitter in September, Bragg asked what the government had done about its 2019 commitment.

She said: “We have an advisory board looking at ‘non-legislative improvements’ to reduce maternity discrimination which will meet quarterly until March 2023. No action plan. No recommendations for legislative change.”

In her final tweet in the thread she wrote: “Disappointing.”

Third Sector has been told that it was these tweets that led officials to cut the charity from the board.

Heather Wakefield, chair of trustees at Maternity Action, said: “We are surprised by our removal from the board, the reasons for which have not been adequately explained to us.

“BEIS officials were well aware of our criticism of the boards disappoingly narrow remit when they invited us to join the board last year. 

“In July 2019, ministers promised a task force to draw up an action plan on keeping pregnant women and new mothers in the workforce. We are still waiting for that action plan, and for the second meeting of the board.”

The other charities on the advisory board are Working Families, the Fawcett Society and Pregnant Then Screwed. It is not known what action, if any, they plan to take in response to Maternity Action’s exclusion.

A BEIS spokesperson did not deny the claims about social media, and instead referred Third Sector to a statement made in the House of Commons on 8 April by Paul Scully, the minister for small business. 

Asked by Wera Hobhouse, the Liberal Democrat MP for Bath, why Maternity Action had been removed from the board, Scully replied: “The pregnancy and maternity discrimination advisory board’s purpose is to consider non-legislative improvements to reduce pregnancy and maternity discrimination in the workplace. 

“It is a collaboration between government, employer and family representative groups and the membership needs the right balance between those different groups in order for the board to do its job.”

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