Bereavement on the agenda

Patricia Gibson MP

Patricia Gibson MP has become the latest politician to promote changes to bereavement legislation, introducing her Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Bill at Westminster and emphasising the need for paid bereavement leave.

The SNP MP pointed to cross-party support for her proposals.

She said: “Working with colleagues from other parties, I successfully campaigned to secure paid bereavement leave for parents who lose a child up to the age of 18 years old and for those who have suffered a stillbirth to have two additional weeks of leave added to their full maternity leave.

“This measure finally came into effect in April last year and has a very personal resonance for me. However, as ground-breaking as that achievement was, it simply did not go far enough, and my new Bill builds on this previous work by seeking to extend a similar two-week statutory right for paid bereavement leave to all those who lose a close family member.

“I have raised this issue repeatedly and it has particular significance now, as COVID-19 reminded us all about the fragility of life, and the profound, cruel and random nature of loss and bereavement.”

Ms Gibson added: “Many employers are supportive and understanding when an employee suffers a close bereavement. Unfortunately, some are not. Workers may be pressured to return to work while still struggling with the initial shock and trauma of loss. Without any statutory rights to paid bereavement leave, the time and space to grieve is determined by the goodwill of individual employers. Potentially thousands of employees are currently unable to take leave without fearing it could undermine their job security.”

Bereavement has been a focus for other parties across the UK this year. At the latest Scottish elections, improved bereavement assistance was also promoted by the Liberal Democrats, Labour and the Conservatives – who pledged to support the Bereavement Charter for Scotland, following Golden Charter’s push to have this included in party manifestos. Subsequently at Westminster, childhood bereavement was raised by Ed Davey MP in response to the Queen’s Speech.

In Wales, a consultation on the national framework for bereavement care was launched in the spring. Responses are now being reviewed.

Extending bereavement support

The Department for Work and Pensions has set out plans to extend bereavement support to cohabiting couples with children. Widowed Parent’s Allowance and Bereavement Support Payments would be extended to surviving cohabiting partners with children, if they were living with their partner at the time of death.

Around 22,000 families are expected to benefit, with the changes to apply retroactively from 30 August 2018.

Baroness Stedman-Scott said: “The death of a loved one is devastating, and can also come with significant financial implications.

“This change will mean more families can access support during the most difficult of times, and I hope to make that possible as swiftly as I can.”

Reducing baby loss

A Westminster Hall debate has taken place on reducing baby loss. Throughout, MPs paid tribute to bereavement organisations’ support to parents and families who have lost a baby.

Conservative MP Peter Gibson called for a future review of bereavement leave to consider extending it to parents who suffer a miscarriage in the second trimester of pregnancy, a call supported by Labour’s Justin Madders MP.

Mr Gibson said: “I am hopeful that the threshold for statutory bereavement leave will be revisited. The impact of a loss in the second trimester will almost always be just as painful, devastating and hard to overcome as a loss in the third trimester.”

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