Sunderland City Council has backed calls to introduce maternity and paternity leave for its councillors.
The landmark decision was passed at last night’s full council meeting (November 21) with cross-party support.
Currently, councillors don’t have the same rights as other council workers with regards to parental leave.
Under current arrangements, when councillors have children, they must choose between physically attending duties or not.
Labour councillor Rebecca Atkinson said the motion had been four years in the making and stemmed from her experiences of balancing parental and councillor duties after giving birth in 2014.
“Although blessed with a beautiful boy, I was offered no legal protection from the council during this period,” she told councillors at the Sunderland Civic Centre meeting.
“I was offered plenty of support, plenty of advice, plenty of guidance and above all plenty of positivity from members of my own group, but sadly no paternity policy.”
The motion called for parental leave policies to apply to people regardless of gender, parents wanting to adopt and to encourage a wider range of people to become councillors in future.
It added that only 4% of councils in England and Wales have parental leave policies as of summer 2017, according to research by the Fawcett Society.
Coun Atkinson, launching the motion, argued adopting the Local Government Association’s (LGA) Labour Women’s Taskforce policy around parental leave would help “bring the council into the 21st century”.
“When I became a councillor I thought it was the most rewarding role but also the toughest, I hastily changed my mind when I became a mum,” she added.
“To allow our councillors a breathing space with legal protection and a place of safety and respect to get to grips with their new role of a parent is something of the utmost importance to me and that’s why I feel we need this parental leave policy.
“We’re not asking for special treatment, this is what is afforded to everyone else, bar MPs, in this country.
“I welcome this policy and also the positive changes it will hopefully make to some councillors in the chamber but also future generations of Sunderland councillors.”
Deputy council leader, Michael Mordey, also welcomed the motion which he said would help tackle “barriers” preventing people, and particularly young people, becoming councillors.
“For a democracy to be healthy there needs to be a wide range of people willing and able to put themselves forward, bringing forward this policy is a very encouraging step forward,” he said.
“I accept there is no parental leave of any kind in any elected office and these policies are only implemented on a voluntary basis.
“I personally believe that is wrong and will call on the government to introduce this vital piece of legislation.
“Our democracy at every level should be open to everyone.”
The motion was backed by both Conservative and Liberal Democrat and Others groups on the council.
Deputy Leader of the Sunderland Lib Dems, Coun Stephen O’Brien, added he was “heartened to see true equality coming in in this chamber”.
The motion reads:
This Council notes:
That analysis of the 2018 Local Election results by the Fawcett Society found that 34% of councillors in England are women, up 1% since 2017.
Of the seats that were up for election in 2018, 38% went to women, up just 3 percentage points on 2014 when these seats were last contested;
As of summer 2017, only 4% of councils in England and Wales have parental leave policies, according to research by the Fawcett Society;
That the role of a councillor should be open to all, regardless of their background, and that introducing a parental leave policy is a step towards encouraging a wider range of people to become councillors, and is also a step to encourage existing councillors who may want to start a family to remain as councillors.
That parental leave must apply to parents regardless of their gender, and that it should also cover adoption leave to support those parents who choose to adopt
This council resolves:
To adopt the parental leave policy drafted by the LGA Labour Group’s Women’s Taskforce to give all councillors an entitlement to parental leave after giving birth or adopting.
To ensure that councillors with children and other caring commitments are supported as appropriate.
To notify the LGA that this council has passed a motion at full council to adopt the parental leave policy
Chris Binding , Local Democracy Reporting Service