Following the launch of Petals (Pregnancy Expectations Trauma and Loss Society) in Banbury, Victoria Prentis took part in the Parental Bereavement (leave and pay) debate on Friday 20 October. The Parental Bereavement Bill, introduced by Kevin Hollinrake MP, aims to allow bereaved employed parents a day-one right to take time off work if they lose a child under the age of 18. Employees with 26 weeks of continuous service will be eligible to receive parental bereavement pay.
Currently, there are no legal requirements for employers to provide paid leave for grieving parents. In the debate, Victoria discussed the nature of the bill including the responsibility of employers to support grieving parents. She commented: “It is so important that politicians and the Government put in place the legal mechanisms to ensure that this is possible. We must work hard to allow for conversations to be had”.
Please see below a full transcript of Victoria’s speech, taken from Hansard. Having passed Second Reading it will now go to Committee. You can follow the Bill’s progress here.
The debate took place the week after Baby Loss Awareness Week. More details of Victoria’s involvement in BLAW can be found here.
Victoria Prentis (Banbury) (Con)
What an honour it is to follow the hon. Member for Lincoln (Ms Lee).
We are an example of employees, as it were. You are not our employer, Madam Deputy Speaker, but you are somebody with authority over us making adjustments to cope with grieving parents. We have very kindly been called at the beginning of this debate, because that really does help.
It is an enormous pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake). I am very pleased to have worked with my hon. Friends the Members for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) and for Colchester (Will Quince), and the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson), over the past couple of years on coping with the loss of a child and on how we can change the law, as well as change the conversation in society as a whole. It is therefore an enormous pleasure to speak as a co-sponsor of this Bill. I will not detain the House any more than I absolutely have to because we want to get on with it and get it passed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester did a lot of the spadework last year with his ten-minute rule Bill. I am sorry that that did not progress, but very pleased that the Government have had the opportunity to make a manifesto commitment to bring about this area of change. To me, as a former Government lawyer, the most exciting word in the Bill is “pay”. It is great that the Government is going to put its money where its mouth is and really support bereaved parents and their employers to cope when something very tragic happens. This Bill is long overdue. Historically, it has been down to the employer to decide how bereaved parents are treated. Although I have had excellent and supportive care from my employer, I know that that is not the case for everyone. I was sorry to hear of the examples that my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton raised.
Grief can, to a certain extent, be managed. That is something that I was told by my consultant soon after I gave birth, and at the time I thought it was a ridiculous idea that anyone could ever put grief into a box and raise the lid only when it suited them. However, the similarity of experience among those who are bereaved is quite astounding. Grief is something that can be managed, and life can go on after something dreadful. It is so important that politicians and the Government put in place the legal mechanisms to enable that to happen as easily as possible.
In the early days, bereaved parents may well, depending on the circumstances, be suffering from some form of post-traumatic stress disorder—they will certainly be suffering from shock—and they might need to tell and retell their story. They will have to deal with funerals and administration. They might have to deal with the police, inquests and all sorts of ghastly and unpleasant registration that no one thinks about before it happens to them.
It is particularly good that the grief of fathers is recognised in the Bill, because they have traditionally been overlooked. We know the very sad statistics about the high incidence of marital breakdown following a tragedy. Anything we can do to assist families to stay together must be done.
In the all-party group on baby loss we have worked very hard on the bereavement care pathway, and I am thrilled that we have brought the Government along with us. I think that counselling is a very valuable part of the recovery from a tragedy such as this, and anything we can do to build that into employment practice is worth doing. I was very lucky; I had a very supportive employer in the civil service. I had a job I loved, and I had sympathetic and imaginative colleagues. My own experience of grief certainly made me a better manager when the time came for me to help the people I worked with to manage their own tragic situations.
I do think that there is a role for good bereavement practice at work. I found it very helpful to know who knew what had happened, so one thing I introduced as a manager was to get everybody to sign a card that was given to the bereaved person as they returned to work, so that it was obvious that everybody knew what had happened and everybody acknowledged the extent of the tragedy. That enabled us all to move on and to have conversations, if appropriate—or not, if appropriate.
There are many things that employers can do to ease the burden, and I think the ACAS policies are a great place to start. It is important to recognise that members of staff will need extra support, possibly for many years. Anniversaries are difficult, although I think we often build them up in advance to be worse than they are on the day; they do not turn out to be quite as bad as we think they will be. We can all imagine scenarios that may be particularly difficult for those who have lost a child, including future pregnancies and the illness of other children in the family. A hospital visit of any kind can be very stressful for somebody who has been traumatised in hospital. I call on employers to do everything they can to try to imagine what it is like.
This is, however, a happy day for us. I offer many congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton, and to all of us who are supporting this Bill, I say, “Thank you.”