Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for paid leave for people who have experienced miscarriage.
The Bill seeks to give three days’ paid leave for parents who have experienced miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy or molar pregnancy before 24 weeks. For any expectant parent, this is a devastating experience that is often further compounded by the stigma and shame of miscarriage. For some families, it may be an experience that happens more than once, compounding the trauma of their loss.
At present, there is no legal right to paid leave for parents grieving the loss of a pregnancy before 24 weeks. Although an increasing number of organisations, including ASOS, Monzo, the Scottish Government and others, have adopted paid miscarriage leave policies, sadly, not all employers are as generous. Most employers that do not have the means will not do so. The majority will not offer such a policy without being prompted by employment legislation. That means that many people are suffering alone in silent grief following pregnancy loss without the support they need.
With this Bill, I propose that, rather than relying on the generosity of employers, the UK should follow the groundbreaking legislation in New Zealand that gives all workers three days’ paid leave in the event of miscarriage. I know that I have the support of Members on both sides of the House; organisations including the Miscarriage Association and the Ectopic Pregnancy Trust; and the 41,000 people who signed the petition calling for paid miscarriage leave. I ask Members present to give their support too.
Tragically, one in four pregnancies will end in miscarriage. This is not a minority issue and it is not a niche concern. The Bill could benefit 1 million people a year. Under current UK legislation, workers are entitled to two weeks of paid bereavement leave following a stillbirth after 24 weeks of pregnancy. The Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully), reminds me of that each time I speak on this issue, but no parent who loses a baby at 23 weeks and 6 days will be comforted by his reliance on that arbitrary line in the sand. It offers nothing to grieving parents who have lost a baby before that 24-week mark and it fails to recognise their grief and loss. Instead, they must rely on sick leave or unpaid leave if they feel unable to return to work following their pregnancy loss.
It is simply not good enough that those suffering miscarriage and the associated grief of their loss are not recognised. Although I welcome the Government’s policy of providing paid bereavement leave for the loss of a child after 24 weeks of pregnancy, this Bill would close the gap in support for those who experience pregnancy loss. I have worked on the issue for well over a year and it never gets easier to speak about, so Members must forgive me if I take a minute.
Suffering miscarriage is not an illness; it is a loss that can be traumatic for expectant parents. Sick leave alone fails to recognise that their grief is no less worthy of time to grieve. People experiencing a miscarriage feel the physical pain of contractions, combined with the heart-wrenching agony of losing a child—they may have glimpsed the child’s face on a scan; they may have known whether it was a boy or a girl; they may have chosen a name; they may have already decorated a nursery. Their hopes and dreams are crushed in that moment.
Many parents feel unable to discuss their loss with friends and family, never mind their employer. It is an injustice to expect grieving parents to appeal to their employer’s good will. Introducing paid leave would open the door to parents getting the support that they deserve, without the need for an often impossible conversation with their employer.
Last week, I met Keeley Lengthorn, a brave campaigning lawyer determined to see policy change in the legal profession and to protect those who experience miscarriage. She wrote in The Law Society Gazette this week about her personal experiences of miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy, and the impact that they have had on her working life. In March this year, her son George was born sleeping at 22 and a half weeks. While nothing can make this loss easier for Keeley, the very last thing on her mind at that point was work. Fortunately, thanks to her tireless campaigning, her workplace had introduced a miscarriage leave policy that, tragically, she was first to use.
An increasing number of private and public sector organisations now follow the New Zealand model, which allows three days’ paid bereavement leave to mothers and their partners in the event of miscarriage. Such a policy means that people know that they have the backing of their employer, that they can approach their employer to have that difficult conversation with a degree of certainty about the support that they will receive, and that they will have the time to deal with the trauma of losing a baby.
Keeley’s article makes it clear how important miscarriage leave is in dealing with such a devastating circumstance of physical and emotional loss. It is an example of good practice where her employer recognised the need for miscarriage leave, but it does not follow that all employers will offer the same support in those circumstances. The decision whether to provide that leave is currently in the hands of employers. Sadly, when we cross our fingers and hope that companies will do the right thing, without a statutory requirement, we are often disappointed. Bringing miscarriage leave into legislation would mean that all workers who experience miscarriage have a legal right to paid leave. They would be given much-needed support and compassion when they need it most, and the permission to take that time to grieve.
The Government did not bring forward legislation to update employment law in this year’s Queen’s Speech. We risk falling behind international best practice if we continue to ignore the needs of workers who experience pregnancy loss. The Taylor review, which should have led the Government to introduce an employment Bill, makes it clear that physical and mental health are interlinked with work performance. Miscarriage undoubtedly affects employees’ health. Modernising employment law must include provision for miscarriage leave. This policy will aid workplace productivity by requiring employers to follow international best practice. More than that, it will help individuals and families to cope with one of the most difficult experiences that they will go through in their life.
I hope that Members across the House will join me in calling for paid miscarriage leave to be made a reality in the UK. This issue is not tied to independence or reserved for one side of the House. This Bill has cross-party support and the colour of a rosette should not affect its chance of success. I am asking for a fairly small provision—less than I would like and less than most parents should expect—but it is a start. Any Member of this House is likely to have around 400 constituents who will experience a miscarriage this year alone. They may be crossing their fingers and hoping that this House finally does the right thing, so let us not disappoint them.
Question put and agreed to.
That Angela Crawley, Alyn Smith, Dave Doogan, Anum Qaisar, Kirsty Blackman, Carol Monaghan and Anne McLaughlin present the Bill.
Angela Crawley accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 16 September, and to be printed (Bill 136).