Government plans to introduce breast-feeding facilities in the workplace have been criticised as being unfair on cash-strapped businesses and potentially leading to increased discrimination against women.
Measures to encourage new mothers to breast-feed at work, such as providing special facilities and flexible breaks, will be outlined in a White Paper tomorrow on tackling health inequalities.
The health secretary, Andrew Lansley, said that he had been working with the private sector to introduce “family friendly” breast-feeding policies and provide support for new mothers.
“Breast-feeding is one of the best ways to give babies good health, but our society doesn’t always make it easy for new mums to do it,” Lansley explained.
However, former Tory MP Ann Widdecombe, speaking on BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show, said this was not an approach she expected from a Conservative-led Government.
Widdecombe said: “Now we have got the state actually saying to employers, in a time of recession, you must provide paid breaks, paid facilities, a special fridge for expressed milk and goodness knows what else for women returning to work who have decided, on their responsibility presumably, to have a child.”
Economist Ruth Lea, former head of the policy unit at the Institute of Directors, warned that employers facing extra costs because of the plans may give preference to men when recruiting.
“Inevitably this will lead to extra costs on business and will make it harder and harder for them when they are expected to be creating new jobs,” she argued. “If you are an employer looking for a new recruit and you have a young man and a young woman, what would you do?”
The move has been welcomed by the TUC, which said that making it easier for mothers to breast-feed at work will help them return to their jobs and will ultimately lead to better employee relations.