A charity that champions the employment rights of pregnant women and new mothers has been dropped from a government advisory board after posting critical tweets.
In recent months, senior Tories including the culture secretary Nadine Dorries and her predecessor Oliver Dowden have taken pains to position themselves as champions of free speech, decrying “cancel culture”.
So it came as a surprise to Maternity Action, the charity said, when it was removed from the group tasked with advising on workplace discrimination after its director aired her views on social media about the limited scope of the board and a lack of progress.
Ros Bragg tweeted: “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.” After highlighting recommendations from the sector, she added: “Disappointing”.
The charity told the Observer that officials referred to the tweets when it was told it would be removed.
The Department for Business, Enterprise and Industrial Strategy [BEIS] has not denied the decision was based on Bragg’s tweets.
Heather Wakefield, chair of Maternity Action, said: “We were 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 board’s disappointingly narrow remit when they invited us to join last year.
“In July 2019, ministers promised a taskforce to draw up an action plan on keeping pregnant women and new mothers in the workforce. We are still waiting for that action plan.”
Labour’s shadow minister for the arts and civil society, Barbara Keeley MP, said: “Rather than sidelining a charity because they don’t like the chief executive’s tweets, the Conservatives should be laser-focused on tackling energy bills and the cost of living crisis.”
It was confirmed in parliament on Tuesday that the charity would not be invited to a second board meeting. It was absent from a list of 12 members presented by Conservative MP Paul Scully.
Other members include the Fawcett Society, Working Families and Pregnant Then Screwed, whose founder Joeli Brearley said she would be raising the issue with BEIS at the next meeting this month.
A spokesperson from BEIS pointed to an earlier statement by Scully, which read: “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.”