Trio back MP's campaign to help bereaved parents

How long should parents be allowed off work when one of their children dies? It's a question that will be debated in parliament over the next couple of months and it's a discussion in which three of the region's MPs will play a leading role.

Labour's Andy Sawford (Corby) and the two Conservative MPs, Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) and Iain Stewart (Milton Keynes), are co-sponsoring a bill by the Labour MP Tom Harris which would give parents statutory entitlement to leave following a bereavement.

"I doubt that there is anything more upsetting and distressing than the loss of your child but time off work, when it's granted, is wholly at the discretion of the employer at the moment," Mr Jackson said.

He was echoed by Mr Sawford: "Few people realise that time off work, when it's allowed, is entirely at the discretion of the employer.

Website petition

"Few good employers would deny grieving parents time off in such tragic circumstances but there are a large number of cases where some employers have fallen far short of their duties.

"Such leave should be a working parent's right, not given according to their employer's discretion," the Corby MP added.

The driving force behind that Parental Bereavement Leave (Statutory Entitlement) Bill is a charity called Jack's Rainbow, set up by a mother whose son died at the age of 23 months.

The charity has found that many employers will only allow bereaved parents three days off work when their child dies.

Its petition on the Downing Street website has already attracted 23,000 signatures.

"No time can be put on grief, but three days is not reasonable. You have up to 12 months off for the birth of a child and three days off for the death of a child," it says.

Unaffordable costs

At the moment the government tells employers to give "a reasonable amount of time" to bereaved parents. The new bill wants a statutory entitlement to leave, although it doesn't say how much.

"Many employers act admirably and offer significant amounts of paid bereavement leave," said Mr Sawford. "Regrettably, however, some do not."

Presenting the bill in parliament, Mr Harris said he did not intend the measure to place unaffordable costs or unwanted regulation on employers.

"I know the current economic climate is pushing many businesses to the edge but ... with the cost of living rising, grieving parents should never be forced to choose between meeting their responsibilities to their families and putting food on the table."

This is a back bench bill and as such stands little chance of becoming law in its present form but campaigners say the new law could be incorporated in the forthcoming Children and Families Bill.

Even if it doesn't, the MPs hope the bill will give the issue greater prominence and persuade employers to think again.