All of us who are parents know that losing a child is by far the most harrowing thing that could possibly happen to you. It’s a fear that is always present deep in your consciousness, although of course you hope and pray it will not happen to you.
As a parent of four children, I cannot imagine the pain that people must endure if the unthinkable does happen. In most cases, there’s not only the bereavement to deal with, but also the sheer shock of it, as it is not the natural order of things for a child to die before their parent.
This is why I am honoured to have a chance to do something that might alleviate this suffering in a very small way. In July, I introduced a private member’s bill, which, if successful, will give parents who have lost a child statutory paid leave to grieve.
You might think that this is already a legal requirement, but it is not. At the moment, the government expects employers to be compassionate and flexible if one of their staff loses a child, but not all employers will respond in this way. This can have a devastating impact on parents, especially those who need time away to grieve. My Parental Bereavement (Pay and Leave) Bill, which has government support, will seek to make sure grieving parents in employment receive paid leave to grieve away from the workplace, in keeping with the government’s pledge to 'enhance rights and protections in the workplace'.
I think this is a very important help for parents going through the most traumatic times. There is little any of us can do to help, but at least we can make sure that every employer will give them time to start to come to terms with their loss.
I am grateful to my colleague, Will Quince, MP for Colchester, who first drew my attention to this issue following the loss of his own child and the government, particularly the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, for its ongoing support for the bill, which had its second reading on 20 October. At a recent meeting, the business minister, Margot James, told me: “We want parents to get the support they need at this deeply upsetting time. That is why government is supporting this private member’s bill, which will introduce statutory paid bereavement leave for employed parents.”
Over the summer months, we have been working with employers, employee representatives and campaigners on behalf of working families to better understand the needs of bereaved parents and employers so that the bill can be tailored to meet the needs of everyone.
I have met with several families in my constituency who have suffered the loss of a child and they have told me that allowing paid time away from work would help them to start the process of rebuilding their lives as a family. If this bill eases the unimaginable pain for just one family, then it will be worthwhile.
Kevin Hollinrake is the Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malton