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Thu, 29 October 2020

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Lord Knight: Easing the burden of parental bereavement

Lord Knight: Easing the burden of parental bereavement
4 min read

It is every parent’s worst nightmare to lose a child. They deserve protection in law to give them the time they need to grieve, writes Lord Knight

One Friday afternoon, about seven years ago, I was on set for the “as live” recording of the regional segment of the Sunday Politics programme. I was in the BBC’s Southampton studio and was discussing the political stories of the week with an MP. As always there was a non-political guest; that was when I met Lucy Herd.

sat and told her story. She sat on the sofa under the bright hot lights as a vulnerable but strong young mother. She had just moved down south from the north west. The previous August she had been at home in Cumbria, distracted and busy with her household chores. Her two-year-old, Jack, was playing around her feet and the backdoor was open to let in some air. Moments later, she looked up from the washing up, through the kitchen window, and saw Jack face down in the garden pond.

Despite all her efforts, and those of the emergencies services, Jack died. Lucy’s husband was away working in Australia and so she had to cope in the first day or so without him. Her husband hurried back but his employer only gave him three days bereavement leave including time for his son’s funeral.

As Lucy told this story I was shocked to discover that there is no legal entitlement to bereavement leave in this most horrific of circumstances. It is every parent’s worst nightmare to lose a child and they deserve some protection in law to help them grieve.

I kept in touch with Lucy and her campaign Jack’s Rainbow. She petitioned Parliament. She worked with Tom Harris, then MP for Glasgow Cathcart, on a Ten Minute Rule Bill. She captured many stories of parents being even more harshly treated by employers, including NHS workers. It was clear something had to be done.

When the Children’s and Families Bill went through Parliament in 2014 we spotted an opportunity. I was able to tell then of examples of company policies specifying only two days leave, another with a similar policy that ended in the father committing suicide, and of the very high numbers of marriages that end following a child bereavement.

On that occasion we were unable to persuade the Coalition government to allow a legal entitlement. However, we did manage to get Viscount Younger of Leckie to agree that ACAS would issue guidance to employers on the issue.

I knew that this was progress but that, ultimately, we would have to return to this issue. I was therefore delighted when Will Quince took up the issue in the last session of Parliament through a Private Members Bill. This raised the profile in the Commons and resulted in a Conservative manifesto commitment, and now in Kevin Hollinrake taking the bill through the Commons with government support.

The Bill will give an entitlement to employed parents to take at least 2 weeks off from work following the loss of a child under the age of 18, including still births after 24 weeks’ gestation. This leave will be available irrespective of their length of service with their employer. They will also be entitled to at least 2 weeks of Parental Bereavement Pay in respect of that leave, if they have at least 26 weeks’ continuous service with their current employer. This will be paid at the statutory rate, the same as other statutory family leave entitlements. This doesn’t have to be taken straight away, grief affects people in different ways and the bill allows for some flexibility

We have the Second Reading in the Lords on Friday. I am confident of support from all sides of the Lords and optimistic that we can get this long sought-after measure on the statute book by Christmas.   

Lord Knight of Weymouth is a Labour peer. The second reading of the Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Bill is on Friday 29 Junew