Jim Knight on the case for statutory bereavement leave for parents suffering the loss of a child
Two years ago I was one of the studio guests on the regional Politics Show in Southampton. One of the other guests was a woman called Lucy Herd, who had moved down to the area from Cumbria following the death of her son. Her story was very moving and I have been campaigning with her ever since.
Lucy’s 23 month old son, Jack, drowned in their garden pond when Lucy had taken her eyes off him for just a short moment. This tragedy was compounded when she discovered her partner could take just three days paid leave off work – one of which had to be for the funeral. Any additional time was to be taken as either sick leave or holiday.
Like 90% of parents whose children die before adulthood, their marriage did not survive.
I was moved to want to right this wrong when I found out that hers was not an isolated case and that there is no right to bereavement leave in law. I have therefore been doing what I can in Parliament to support the Jack’s Rainbow campaign which has been building support; most recently with an online petition that now has over 133,000 signatories.
Lucy is supported by many organisations, including Child Bereavement UK, Cruse, the Lullaby Trust (formerly Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths, Gonetoosoon.com, and various MPs. An opinion poll conducted last October by Survation has shown overwhelming support from the public.
The only significant argument against is the impact on employers. This week I met the CBI to discuss their view. Whilst they are concerned to get the scope and structure right, they are happy to engage with the debate and can see the case in principle to act.
Having therefore got public support and the nod from employers I have been hopeful of government support. My friend Tom Harris MP has raised it at Prime Ministers Questions and appeared to get a sympathetic response. Sadly, the follow up letter was less encouraging with the government relying on guidance to right this wrong.
Today is the last day of Report on the Children and Families Bill. Crossbencher Baroness Howarth and I will make the case for bringing in a modest measure to move this on. We want the government to have the power to introduce regulations to bring in statutory bereavement leave for parents of children following proper consultation, to make sure it is done sensitively and effectively.
For the sake of Lucy, and other parents who go through a similarly tragedy, I want them to have the assurance of an entitlement of a couple of weeks off. That would give them time together, to deal with the immediate aftermath, and work out how to rebuild their family following such an awful and traumatic loss.
Lord Jim Knight is a member of Labour’s frontbench team in the House of Lords. He tweets @jimpknight
Published 29th January 2014