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Paid Miscarriage Leave

Volume 710: debated on Thursday 17 March 2022

I beg to move,

That this House calls on the Government to introduce paid miscarriage leave; notes that in the UK, two weeks parental bereavement leave and pay is in place after stillbirth, however there is no such support for anyone who has experienced a miscarriage before 24 weeks of pregnancy; believes that miscarriage is an extremely traumatic experience and that more support should be provided to families that experience such a loss; understands that the New Zealand Parliament unanimously approved legislation to give people who experience a miscarriage paid leave, no matter what stage a loss of pregnancy occurs; and further believes that the Government should follow suit and provide paid leave for people that experience miscarriage and allow families to grieve for their profound loss.

I am extremely grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for granting this important debate in the Chamber. I am also grateful to the Members in attendance today, to those who spoke passionately in last week’s Westminster Hall debate and to colleagues from across the House who backed my private Member’s Bill, many of whom have supported this issue for some time. Many thanks also go to the fantastic organisations that advocate for greater support for those who experience the trauma of miscarriage, including the Miscarriage Association, Mumsnet, Sands, the Ectopic Pregnancy Trust and many more. I also put on record my appreciation for the 40,000 people who have signed the petition calling for paid miscarriage leave and for those from all over the UK who have contacted their MPs to ask them to back the campaign.

This is an important issue that has cross-party support. I am only sorry that the debate falls on a Thursday when the Chamber is less populated than usual, but, given that many Members support the motion, I hope that we will see more progress from the Minister today.

One thing that has struck me throughout the campaign is the brave men and women who have told their story of loss to try to help others, and who have campaigned every day so that others do not have to suffer in silence, as they did. I wish to share one such story today. A constituent of mine said that

“it is not just the physical pain of that moment—it is the emotional pain that lingers.”

Those are the words of my constituent from Carluke, who bravely shared her experiences with me last week. When she miscarried, she was the only woman working in her office—all her colleagues were men—and felt totally powerless to talk about her experience. Not only did she not feel comfortable seeking time off work, but she simply did not feel able to tell anyone in her workplace about what had happened to her. She spoke to me not only of the physical loss of the miscarriage, but of the mental impact of that loss. She said:

“You need time to recover from the physical element of what you have experienced. It can take its toll on the body. But I found the mental effects to be much worse. When you get the news that you’re pregnant, it is such a joyous time. You share it with friends and family, and you prepare yourself for the imminent arrival. So when you never held your baby, you still feel that it has been taken away from you. It is a loss and something that I mourned. Before I returned home from hospital, I made sure that my husband got rid of all the baby items that we had bought—clothes, toys, everything. I felt totally unsupported. I took a sick day on the Friday when it took place and was back at work on Monday as if nothing had happened. I don’t understand why there is just nothing in place to support women in these times of trauma.”

I commend the hon. Lady for bringing this matter forward. I have always supported her in her objective of trying to achieve this. I was there to support her when she had a debate in Westminster Hall. I am ever mindful of the fact that my mother had a number of miscarriages. She was back at work, as the hon. Lady mentioned, within days. My sister had them as well and was back at work very quickly. I had a staff member who had two miscarriages and she was also back at work very quickly. Does the hon. Lady not agree that the fathers of these wee lives also have a right to mourn, and that any paid miscarriage leave must also recognise the daddy and allow him to know that society does not expect him to carry on as if his whole world has not been completely shaken as well?

Absolutely. I thank the hon. Member for his point—a point that I was about to make myself.

The fact is that, for too many parents, the loss of a pregnancy is seen as a woman’s issue. It is seen as something that affects only the mother. Sadly, too often, it is the fathers and the partners who lose out on that recognition of their loss and the ability to take leave. The loss of a pregnancy at any stage can be truly devastating, and, sadly, for some families, this experience may happen to them more than once, compounding the trauma of their loss. Without that recognition, the hopes and dreams that they had for their little life are gone—that is it. There are no legal rights, no forms of bereavement leave or pay, and, quite simply, no recognition that their little life existed.

One in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage and the experience of my constituent is not unique; it is shared by thousands of people every year. In a recent survey on miscarriage in the workplace, Mumsnet reported that there had been an increase in the number of women who labelled their experiences as poor or very poor—21%, up from 17% in 2019. Thousands of respondents cited a lack of support from their employer and a fifth of women said that they would have liked to take time off work following their miscarriage, but that they did not feel able to ask. These are incredibly difficult conversations to have with employers, and, just as my constituent highlighted, many women are simply not comfortable to do so or to share these experiences, and we are hearing the same experiences repeated time and again.

The Minister was right to say last week in the debate that good employers will take the appropriate action and treat the situation sensitively, giving staff the appropriate leave when required. However, the legislation that I propose is not only for employers; it is for the families up and down the country who cannot disclose a miscarriage, who feel pressured into going back to work too soon, and who feel shamed into silence. The Mumsnet survey showed that a resounding 96% of respondents supported the introduction of three days’ paid leave following a miscarriage. I repeat that number: 96% of survey respondents who had recently had a miscarriage said they would support the motion in the House today for paid miscarriage leave. One respondent said:

“I felt pressure to be back and didn’t allow myself any grieving time. It didn’t do me any good.”

Another added:

“You are replaceable at work. Your health and well-being for life should be a priority and workplaces need to change their attitudes and sickness policies, not make us burn the candle at both ends to fit into their policies. It’s pregnancy related anyway and shouldn’t be counted within sickness policy.”

While the updated ACAS guidance recommends that employers should consider offering time off, there is no legal right to paid leave and no statutory requirement for employers to allow it. We are seeing more and more employers implement policies, and that is welcome. Many workplaces have introduced a dedicated policy of miscarriage leave, one of the many ways employers can give meaningful support to their staff at that difficult time. However, leaving the provision at the discretion of employers is driving inequality across the board. Too many workers are left without the support they deserve because paid leave is not statutory.

Comprehensive policies of paid miscarriage leave have been introduced in nations such as New Zealand and Australia, and just last month the Northern Ireland Assembly legislated to introduce paid miscarriage leave, making it the first place in Europe to do so. The Scottish Government have pledged to provide three days’ paid leave following miscarriage, but the right to extend that provision to the private sector is reserved to this place.

While I recognise that three days’ paid leave, or even two weeks, may not be enough, it is a meaningful recognition of the loss and the grief. We should aim to support our workforce adequately and adopt recognised international best practice. A UK-wide policy of paid miscarriage leave would ensure that parents receive the support they deserve in this tragic time, and that no one falls through the cracks of the existing system.

The Government’s much-awaited employment Bill still appears to be some way from Parliament. Ahead of that Bill, the Taylor review of modern working practices has highlighted the changing demographics of the workplace and the need for a comprehensive employment law. There are more women in work now than ever before, and women’s participation in the workplace has been growing quicker than men’s over the past two decades.

Central to the Taylor review is the idea of putting employee health and wellbeing at the forefront of future employment legislation. That must include the provision of paid miscarriage leave. We must ensure that employment law protects and supports employees through such a serious life event. I do not believe the current legislation gives enough support to women and their partners through the experience of pregnancy loss in the workplace.

Indeed, I have asked the Minister when the employment Bill will be brought to the House and received no definitive answer. Families cannot wait for legislation that is not yet on the horizon. There is enough support across the House to bring forward a separate Bill on this issue, and I urge the Minister to introduce paid miscarriage leave.

Last Tuesday in the debate in Westminster Hall I raised the issue with the Minister once again. The response we heard was underwhelming. The Government continue to insist that sick pay or annual leave are acceptable provisions for those who experience miscarriage. They are not. Grief is not a holiday and it is not an illness. That response is offensive and unsustainable.

The Minister highlighted the Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Act 2018 as evidence of action the Government have taken on this issue, but that Act does not make provision for those who experience a loss before 23 weeks and six days. Parents who experiences the loss of a pregnancy before 24 weeks have no statutory right to paid leave, and that is wrong.

As many hon. Members will know, I have been campaigning on this issue for some time. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson), who first introduced the Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Bill. When the Act came into effect, it secured two weeks’ leave for parents who experienced that loss after 24 weeks, but, as I said, there is nothing in place for parents before that time.

The Minister’s sympathy and understanding are welcome, but they are not enough. We must do more to ensure that all parents who experience the loss of a pregnancy are protected with such provision and to extend paid leave to those who experience a loss prior to 24 weeks. A specific statutory provision for paid miscarriage leave should not only cover the women experiencing the miscarriage, but their partners. It would also give a signal to those experiencing pregnancy loss that they have permission to grieve.

This is about more than changing policy; it is about changing workplace culture in the UK to account for real-life issues that affect the workforce. By legislating for this provision in employment law, we can help to tackle the stigma associated with miscarriage and facilitate a wider discussion on improved care.

I thank all the parents who have shared their stories of loss and grief with me in the pursuit of policy change. Pregnancy loss happens all too often, and sadly it ruins and destroys the joy that many expectant parents have. When pregnancy loss occurs, it is not only the loss of the pregnancy but of the hope and the dreams that expectant parents have, and it is an incredibly difficult time.

I urge the Minister to reconsider the Government’s stance and invite him to meet me once again to discuss how we can move this debate forward. It is unacceptable that parents should have to take sick leave or annual leave; they are not sick and they are not on holiday. For too long, parents have suffered without the support they need and deserve. We must recognise the grief and loss that parents who experience pregnancy loss before 24 weeks face. I urge the Government to give serious consideration to introducing paid miscarriage leave across the UK and to support my motion here today.

I welcome the opportunity to support my hon. Friend the Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) and to speak in favour of her Bill.

Currently, legislation exists for paid parental bereavement leave where a baby is stillborn after the 24th week of pregnancy, but no such provision is made where a miscarriage occurs before that time at any stage during the pregnancy. The Bill would right that wrong. Whereas this debate will quite rightly focus on the care and rights of women, there are others who are clearly affected by these circumstances. I therefore wish to speak particularly from the perspective of the father or partnership in the relationship.

In a BBC report in September 2021, a woman who had lost her baby at only nine weeks said about the possibility of paid leave:

“I think a lot of people would find paid leave very useful because it would give them time to be there with their partners who are going through a difficult experience.”

It is understandable, given her traumatic experience, that she sees paid leave for her partner as being useful, essentially, for the mother. I am not suggesting that she was unaware of the shared nature of the trauma, but it reveals a common view that can obscure the suffering of fathers or partners. More recently, in an STV report in January 2022, a woman who had lost 10 unborn babies revealed her awareness of how vital it is for both parents to be allowed the time to understand what they have gone through, and regretted that she and her partner had not had time for themselves because they could not afford not to work. In a recent American research study report based on 386 partners, speaking of the effects of a miscarriage on a partner, an experienced senior social worker commented:

“We often deny and dismiss partners’ vulnerable feelings of loss and sadness. It’s very easy then for partners’ often subtle feelings of grief to get lost in the more obvious and physical experience of loss their partner has experienced.”

There is, regrettably, little research on the emotional reactions of partners after miscarriage. However, a study by University College London in 2014, with 160 partners, found as many as 85% suffering grief, sadness and shock, with nearly half of them saying it had caused sleep problems and had affected their work. Sadly, perhaps because of the need to return to work immediately, a quarter did not talk about their feelings at all with their partners, and nearly half did not share their full feelings for fear, they said, of causing their partner further upset. An earlier American study in 2010 found that couples who did not find the time to openly discuss the loss with each other were more likely to break up as a consequence. Current NHS UK advice on coping with a miscarriage reinforces the importance of partners being able to express their feelings openly, even, or perhaps especially, when they hold a more traditional view that their main role is to support the mother.

More recent research by University College London in 2020 suggests that for some the problems can be even more serious. Of 192 cases studied, 34% of the women suffered symptoms that could be described as post-traumatic stress disorder. While partners do not appear to suffer post-traumatic stress disorder as often as the mother, the research points out that with about 250,000 miscarriages in the UK every year, there could still be many thousands of partners living with it and requiring help and support.

All of this points to a need for greater attention and care for partners, but I feel sure it also points to the importance of paid leave and pay, regardless of the stage of pregnancy in which the miscarriage occurs. That would enable both partners to have the time to discuss fully with each other the shared trauma they have experienced and where necessary make arrangements for further medical assessment and treatment, free of the pressure to return to work.

The Scottish Government are committed to three days of paid leave for parents in the public sector who suffer miscarriage at any point during the pregnancy. While the Bill asks initially for only three days of paid leave, it is hoped that, as we become a more enlightened society, the Government will recognise the benefits not only to the couples and families involved, but to society in general, and in due course consider extending the three days of paid leave even further. However, as the matter is reserved to Westminster, it cannot be imposed on the private sector without UK Government legislation. With full fiscal autonomy, countries such as New Zealand and Australia have already put in place paid leave for all parents affected by miscarriage at whatever point the tragedy takes place. The Northern Ireland Assembly has also recently given a commitment to introduce paid miscarriage leave following a consultation, with the policy due to come into force no later than April 2026.

In conclusion, it is time for the United Kingdom to have the vision to support this Bill, and I therefore urge the Government to do so.

Just before we start the wind-ups, I would like to say that, as the House knows, there will be a statement following this debate on P&O Ferries. It was anticipated that it would come at 5 o’clock. It is now likely to be way before 5 o’clock, so any Members wishing to take part in that statement should make their way to the Chamber now.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) on securing this debate. I wish we had more time today to discuss this matter, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Allan Dorans), too, who made a fine contribution. It will come as no surprise to the House that I will be supporting both my colleagues and what they have done.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Lanark and Hamilton East for the petition, which called on the UK Government to introduce at least three days of paid miscarriage leave for parents who lose a baby before 24 weeks of pregnancy. It received more than 40,000 signatures, which suggests that there is support among the wider public. On 21 June last year, she presented a private Member’s Bill to change the law, which has its Second Reading tomorrow. She also secured a Westminster Hall debate on the issue on 8 March 2022, and there have been two early-day motions, one on “Miscarriage leave and employment policy”, and another on “Miscarriage leave in Northern Ireland”, which have been supported by Members from all parts of the House.

Mention has been made of my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson), who led on the Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Bill in 2018, which came into effect in April 2019. That secured two weeks of paid leave for all parents who lost a child up to the age of 18. She also launched a ten-minute rule Bill to make provision about leave and pay for employees where a close family member has died, and that is scheduled for Second Reading. My colleagues have a strong record on this area and I am proud to be associated with them. They have my full support.

Miscarriage is the most common kind of pregnancy loss, affecting around one in four pregnancies. The loss of a baby at any stage of pregnancy is an unimaginable tragedy, and our sympathies are with families who have suffered a baby loss. In the UK, the definition applies to pregnancies up to 23 weeks and 6 days. Any loss from 24 weeks is called a stillbirth. If the baby is born alive, even before 24 weeks, and lives even for a matter of minutes, that is considered a live birth and a neonatal death.

There is no statutory entitlement to leave for anyone who loses a baby before 24 weeks. Will the Minister consider that matter? As he knows, I have pursued him regularly and rigorously in many debates covering his brief about the long-awaited employment Bill—we have waited at least four years for it. It will cover a host of issues, as he will be aware, not just those around the Taylor review, and could help many workers.

Too many workers are left without support due to cracks in the current system, which leaves paid provision of leave at the discretion of employers and can result in discrimination against parents in low-paid and part-time work. That is why it is vital for the Minister to carefully consider the call that my hon. Friends the Members for Lanark and Hamilton East and for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock have made today for paid miscarriage leave.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock touched on, the SNP Scottish Government are committed to matching the laws that have been introduced in New Zealand and introducing three days of paid miscarriage leave in the public sector in Scotland. That will be welcome, but as has been said, to introduce paid miscarriage leave in the private sector requires legislation in this place. I think there is support on both sides of the House to ensure that that happens.

The Scottish Government have committed to establishing a dignified and compassionate miscarriage service by the end of 2023, including by ensuring that maternity units have dedicated facilities for women who are experiencing unexpected pregnancy complications. As part of delivering that commitment, a scoping exercise will shortly be issued across all 14 health boards to help to establish current service provision for miscarriage care and the support that is available to women who experience unexpected pregnancy complications.

In addition, the Scottish Government are listening to the voices of those providing miscarriage services, women who have experienced miscarriage and organisations who support them through a series of roundtable discussions. I hope that the Minister has listened carefully to what my hon. Friends have said. I am sure that we will have support from the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders). I hope that the Minister will look positively at what we think is a sensible measure to introduce a policy of paid miscarriage leave across these islands.

I thank the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) for securing and leading the debate and the Backbench Business Committee for granting it. I pay tribute to her campaigning on the issue, which has helped to put the matter firmly on the political agenda.

Understandably, it is sometimes difficult for us to talk about such issues, but as we have seen with the now annual baby loss debates, raising these subjects in an informed and sensitive way is a good way to challenge existing rules and assumptions and to make change happen. We know that any change of the type that we are talking about would help the thousands of parents who experience pregnancy loss every year. Of course it cannot reduce the pain and sense of loss that they experience, but by removing one barrier that they will face during the grieving process, I hope that it will prove to be of some use.

As hon. Members have said, pregnancy loss at any stage of pregnancy is a major source of grief and can have a significant impact on the emotional and mental health and wellbeing of women and their partners. We know that women who have experienced baby loss are at a higher risk of post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression. As we have heard, a survey carried out by the Baby Loss Awareness Week Alliance in 2019 found that 60% of parents who experienced pregnancy or baby loss said that they would have liked specialist psychological support for their mental health but were unable to access it on the NHS. We need to do better than that. We need to ensure that support is accessible to all women who have lost a baby and that the needs of their partners are also addressed.

Nearly two years ago, the Government introduced parental bereavement leave and pay for employed parents who lose a child under the age of 18 or who suffer a stillbirth from 24 weeks of pregnancy, but current legal provisions cover only those parents who lose a pregnancy from 24 weeks. There is no current entitlement to bereavement leave for a miscarriage, which is medically defined as a loss of pregnancy before the 24th week. If a pregnant person, their partner or a person receiving a surrogate loses a child before 24 weeks, only the pregnant person is entitled to leave, and that is only for the physical illness or sickness that they face.

In a recent debate on this matter, the Government pointed to other statutory provisions such as statutory sick pay for women unable to return to work because of ill health following a miscarriage, but, as we have heard from Members today, that is not adequate and does not provide the right support to women and their partners who experience pregnancy loss. Loss is loss whether it is at week 12, 18 or 24 of a pregnancy. The need to grieve will still be there.

However, looking at this on the basis that loss before 24 weeks is treated at the moment as sickness absence—putting aside whether that is the correct classification for such absence, and I think we can all acknowledge that a powerful case is being made that it is not—we all know that statutory sick pay is woeful. The rate is among the worst in Europe and it is not available to all workers. As we have seen during the pandemic, it is very hard for those on low wages, in insecure work, or the self- employed to access proper support when they are sick. Indeed, the Government have said they know sick pay needs to be looked at, so I hope the Minister can do so.

The Minister has previously suggested that in these situations annual leave could be used for miscarriage leave. The grieving process is of course not in any way remotely comparable to a holiday. For those suffering a loss, it is not something they would choose to do if they could avoid it, so I ask the Minister to think again about whether it is appropriate to ask people who have gone through such a traumatic experience to take a holiday. Is that the correct way to classify their grief?

The truth is that neither of the current statutory provisions is adequate. Bereavement is not an illness and it is certainly not a holiday. That is why Labour has committed to a right to introduce bereavement leave. We know that others support that. The chief executive of Sands, the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Charity, said that miscarriage leave should be statutory. Indeed, as we have heard, in many places, it is: New Zealand and Australia have recently introduced paid miscarriage leave policies. Closer to home, following a public consultation, the Northern Ireland Assembly has legislated to introduce paid miscarriage leave by April 2026. As has been highlighted, Northern Ireland is leading the way not just in the UK but in Europe on this policy. Several companies including the Co-op and Channel 4 and trade unions such as the GMB have introduced miscarriage policies and periods of leave for all women who have experienced a miscarriage. We all applaud those employers for their forward-thinking policies, but can we all agree that the lottery of who you are employed by should not determine whether you are entitled to such leave? We should also reflect on whether Members, as employers, should be looking to make changes in this area. It is important that we recognise that, while there is some good practice out there, leaving it to employers to decide will lead to inequality and that, without statutory provision or legal rights to back up what is being asked for today, not everyone will receive the support they require.

We also know that there is considerable support among others for this change. Sixty-five organisations, representing 69,000 employees, have signed the Miscarriage Association pregnancy loss pledge, which

“asks that employers endeavour to create a supportive work environment, understand and implement the rules around pregnancy-related leave, have a policy or guidance in place and support people and their partners back to work.”

In a debate earlier this month, which has been referred to, the Minister agreed that those principles sounded like a “very sensible” approach “that employers should take”, but he also acknowledged that not all employers do that. If he acknowledges this support is not available to all, he must surely recognise that it is incumbent on his Government to do something to address that. We hope to hear him say today that there will be a commitment to equalising entitlement to bereavement leave to protect all parents from being forced to go into work when dealing with the loss of a baby, no matter at what stage of the pregnancy it takes place.

I think we can all agree that creating a supportive environment in these situations is important. Without it, parents may not want to disclose their pregnancy loss to their employer. That is a difficult conversation to have at any time with an employer. Parents can do without the added stress and anxiety of having to raise and possibly even negotiate a period of leave with their employer. To compound that feeling, they might have justifiable fears of workplace discrimination and so not raise the matter at all, with the result that they end up suffering alone, in silence, without receiving the support that they need at a difficult time.

I am sure we will hear the Government say they intend to bring in employment measures when parliamentary time allows, but, as the Minister knows, the scheduling of legislation is up to them, so the time is in their gift. In the last couple of years, we have seen dozens of Acts of Parliament and thousands of statutory instruments, so it is a question of priority. The 2019 Queen’s Speech had the promise of an employment Bill, but that was dropped by the time of the 2021 Queen’s Speech. I hope that does not represent a downgrading of the Government’s commitment to tackling the issue. Surely any Government committed to tacking and improving rights at work would want to do so at the earliest opportunity. As we will no doubt hear shortly in the statement on P&O Ferries, employment laws in this country are in desperate need of an upgrade.

To conclude, will the Minister set out when he will bring the employment Bill forward, and whether he will consider putting within it the provisions that we have debated?

I congratulate the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) on securing this debate, following the debate that we had in Westminster Hall, and I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing us to discuss this important and sensitive issue. It is so important that we hear the examples that she mentioned. We must give our sympathies to people who have lost a much-wanted baby at any stage of their pregnancy, including though miscarriage, and always reach out to them and support them. She spoke with much passion, as she always does on this issue, and I am grateful for her continued work to raise awareness of the significant impact of baby loss at any stage on those parents. I also thank everybody who contributed to the debate and supports the discussions around baby loss.

The hon. Member asked what the Government are doing to support people following a miscarriage. I am pleased to say that we have support in place for both employers and employees, to guide employers to do the right thing by their staff and to protect employees when they need to take time off. I have talked about how losing a baby at any stage is devastating and how those people need their employers to respond with compassion.

I want to set out briefly the wider work that the Government are talking forward on women’s health, including in the workplace, because this is integral to the strategy. In March 2021, we announced the establishment of England’s first women’s health strategy, led by the Department of Health and Social Care. Health in the workplace, fertility, pregnancy, pregnancy loss and post-natal support will be priority areas in that strategy. As we have heard, damaging taboos and stigmas remain around many areas of women’s health, and they can prevent women from starting conversations about their health or seeking support for a health issue, whether through medical help or help from their employers. When women do speak about their health, all too often they are not listened to. We are determined to tackle those issues. Women need to feel supported in the workplace, and those taboos are broken down through open conversation.

Our vision for the women’s health strategy, which was published on 23 December 2021, sets out an ambitious and positive new agenda to improve the health and wellbeing of women across England. We will publish the full strategy later this year.

The Government have an active agenda on work and health more widely. One example of that is our response to the “Health is everyone’s business” consultation published in July 2021, which sets out measures that we will take to protect and maintain progress made to reduce ill health and related job loss and to see 1 million more disabled people in work from 2017 to 2027. Those measures are part of the wider support system that I mentioned and are key steps in our effort to change the workplace culture around health and sickness absence. Changing that culture through opening up conversations in the workplace will benefit anyone who has health issues at work, including those who have lost a pregnancy.

So far I have talked about physical health, but for some people the feelings of grief and loss associated with a miscarriage are overwhelming and have an impact on their mental health. Our excellent national health service is there to support individuals when such feelings are particularly debilitating, or are likely to have a longer-term impact on their mental or physical health. We are expanding access to psychological and talking therapies within specialist perinatal mental health services, with 26 hubs due to open by April 2022. The hubs will offer treatment for a range of mental health issues, as well as bereavement services.

As part of the Government’s commitment to build back better, we published our mental health recovery action plan, which is backed by an additional £500 million this financial year to ensure we have the right support in place. That is in addition to the £2.3 billion of additional funding we are investing in mental health services by 2023-24. We also remain committed to achieving parity between mental and physical health services and reducing mental health inequalities. We are making good progress, with investment in NHS mental health services continuing to increase each year from £11 billion in 2015-16 to £14.3 billion in 2020-21.

I know that the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) is specifically interested in, and always speaks passionately about, a leave entitlement for miscarriage. Parental bereavement leave and pay may not be that entitlement, but it does two important things. First, it supports parents who have suffered that tragic unimaginable loss we have talked about. Secondly, it sets a statutory baseline for employers, sending an important message that the Government expect employers to support their staff following any type of bereavement. That bereavement leave is available to parents who have lost a child under 18 or who have suffered a stillbirth after 24 weeks. That definition of stillbirth is a clinical one.

Miscarriage is undoubtedly a very personal experience and some people affected may want to stay at home, while others may prefer to continue to work or alternatively need time off later. That is why the Government support employers and employees to have those conversations about what is happening in their lives and what support they need, giving them the flexibility to have that approach. Employers are best-placed to understand their own people and to develop a solution that works for the individual.

There are really good examples of companies treating their employees with compassion and going beyond the statutory minimum we set. That is valuable to the employer as well as to the employee. Increased loyalty to employees can improve the retention rate. There is a bottom-line argument for employers, because after investing time in people it seems daft to then not give them the flexibility to keep them within the workforce. Rewarding them well will keep them productive if they feel a valued member of the team.

We heard about the pregnancy loss pledge, which is an excellent example of exactly what I have been saying: encouraging employers to show empathy and understanding towards people experiencing pregnancy loss, and having a supportive work environment where people can openly discuss their needs following a loss.

In this difficult economic climate, the Government are mindful of placing extra statutory burdens on businesses, but for those businesses that can go further we strongly encourage them to do so. We fully expect that in time others will follow that lead. On flexibility, I can give the example of ASOS, which has life events leave. In recent debates we have talked about endometriosis, neonatal care, other caring responsibilities, menopause and now miscarriage. All those things fit partly within the women’s health strategy I was talking about, but in those life event situations it is absolutely incumbent on employers to value their people and show flexibility if they want the reward of their employees remaining productive and loyal in turn.

When it comes to helping employers to be sympathetic and supportive, one of our most important tools is guidance. We recently commissioned a significant update of the guidance on “Managing Bereavement in the Workplace”. That includes a new section on supporting employees after a miscarriage before 24 weeks of pregnancy and offers examples of best practice. The guidance can be found now on the ACAS website. Flexible working is integral to this issue. Yes, it is not a replacement for leave, but having access to flexible working arrangements can be a really important tool to support those in employment who experience a difficult life event. Changing a work pattern can provide individuals with the flexibility they need to balance their work commitments with their personal lives during such challenging times. Having a statutory right to request a temporary or permanent working arrangement could therefore be beneficial to individuals grieving a miscarriage.

We have taken forward our manifesto commitment to consult on making flexible working the default unless employers have good reason not to do it. That consultation contained measures that would increase the availability and support the uptake of flexible working arrangements, including whether to extend the right to request flexible working to all employees from the first day of employment. We have received 1,600 responses and we are going through them now. We will issue our response in due course.

I just want to clarify: is the Minister seriously suggesting that someone who has had a miscarriage should make a flexible working application, which could take weeks or months to resolve?

I am saying that it is one of the tools for employers to value their people, which is why we want to ensure that we can have a tailored response to people’s life events. I talked about miscarriage and we have also rightly talked about all the other areas, including women’s health and, indeed, men’s health, whether that is mental or physical. Flexible working can be at the heart of wraparound care for employees, but it is not the only tool.

Those of us on the SNP Benches often accuse the Government of stealing ideas from their distant cousin, the Liberal party of Australia. Is this not a case where the Liberal party of Australia is correct and more progressive than this Government on paid miscarriage leave?

I am saying that we want to work with employers. We want to showcase the very best and to explain to employers—rightly—that any statutory limit we set is a minimum limit. Any sensible employer that values its people understands that very few businesses, if any, are anything without loyal, productive people. They can value them by showing increased flexibility, including through the examples that I gave of compassionate leave for life events.

Our consultation also talked about ad hoc flexible working and we want to explore how non-contractual flexibility works in practice. That can be done far faster than over the weeks talked about by the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders). I have discussed the question with the flexible working taskforce, which will ensure that the role of ad hoc flexible working and the question of supporting women with health conditions are part of its considerations.

We have heard about employment measures and when they are coming to the House. I reassure Members that the Government are committed to building a high-skill, high-productivity and high-wage economy that delivers on our ambition to make the UK the best place in the world to work and grow a business. We will do that by continuing to champion a flexible and dynamic labour market and as we build back better we will introduce new employment measures to make it easier for people to enter and remain in work as soon as parliamentary time allows.

I extend my condolences once again to anyone who has experienced the loss of a baby. I understand and sympathise with the difficulties suffered by parents in this situation. I have highlighted some of the broad range of activity that the Government already have under way to support people in the workplace who experience difficult life events, including those who have lost a baby. It is also the case that employers have an important part to play because they know their employees and that a supportive workplace benefits both employees and employers, including on productivity and wellbeing.

I thank the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East once again for her contributions to the debate and I thank everybody who has worked hard to raise awareness of the impact of miscarriage.

On behalf of everyone who supported the motion, the private Member’s Bill, today’s debate and the Westminster Hall debate, I want to say with no disrespect to the Minister, who I know has a very large brief, that I do not feel he is listening to the volume and weight of the people who have asked the Government seriously to consider miscarriage leave. It is essential, it is important and without statutory provision too many employers will not make provision. It is fine to say that there is a gold standard and best practice, but when there is no statutory obligation too many employers will not do it. That means that too many families and too many parents will still suffer alone and in silence, and that is not good enough.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House calls on the Government to introduce paid miscarriage leave; notes that in the UK, two weeks parental bereavement leave and pay is in place after stillbirth, however there is no such support for anyone who has experienced a miscarriage before 24 weeks of pregnancy; believes that miscarriage is an extremely traumatic experience and that more support should be provided to families that experience such a loss; understands that the New Zealand Parliament unanimously approved legislation to give people who experience a miscarriage paid leave, no matter what stage a loss of pregnancy occurs; and further believes that the Government should follow suit and provide paid leave for people that experience miscarriage and allow families to grieve for their profound loss.