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Bereavement leave for loss of a child

Reading Time: 4 minutes

  • In what might be a world first, the UK is to allow all people who have lost a child two weeks leave.
  • The law will apply to all working parents who lose a child under 18.
  • Losing a child includes some stillbirths.

An estimated 10,000 working parents a year suffer the tragedy of childhood mortality.

The new law comes into effect at the beginning of the tax year, 6 April 2020.

Stillbirths from 24 weeks of pregnancy are included in child loss. This is the current maximum age (other than medical emergency cases) at which abortion is legal.

The new law, colloquially known as “Jack’s Law” in memory of the child who died and caused the parents to campaign for it, was passed in 2018 and is formally called the Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Act

Currently, there is an obligation for an employer to allow a ‘reasonable’ time off work, unpaid, to care for a dependent. This generally extends to some short time for bereavement. This is enforced through it not being legally permissible to fire someone for taking time off after a bereavement, and will not be affected by the new rules.

Some companies already offer a leave time for bereavement. Under regulation drawn up under the law, an employee may take company bereavement or statutory bereavement, but not both.

The law follows an increasing tendency where the people passing the law don’t really know what the law will be. The law mostly enacts the ability to write up regulation, within certain boundaries, and leaves it up to someone later (in this case “The Secretary of State”, i.e. bureaucrats under him) to define Statutory Instrument. These kind of laws are considerably more dangerous from a human rights perspective than most laws can be.

Leave may be taken in a single block, or two separate weeks. A government website suggests that the second week might want to be taken on an anniversary but the law seems to state that leave must be taken within 8 weeks of the child’s death.

There is no differentiation between mother or father of the child, including for a child yet to be born.

The government has announced that parental bereavement leave is the first of a raft of new employment reforms. There are plans for a new Employment Bill, with promises of reforms for workers including carers’ leave and neonatal pay. The government says it intends to make the UK the best place in the world to work and to start a business.

Parents, including adoptive parents and natural parents not living with the child, and carers acting as long-term parents are included. Step-parents and long-term live-ins are also included, effectively widening the number of adults who are entitled to bereavement leave to as many as four or more for some children.

There is no differentiation between mother or father of the child, including for a child yet to be born. This is a massive win for members of the men’s, father’s and family movements who fought to have father’s emotional condition treated equally.

The new law was brought about largely through the campaign efforts of Lucy Herd after the loss of her 34-month old son. It was introduced to Parliament as a private member’s bill by Kevin Hollinrake, the MP for Thirsk and Malton.

In the immediate aftermath of a child dying, parents have to cope with their own loss, the grief of their wider family, including other children, as well as a vast amount of administrative paperwork and other arrangements. 

A sudden or accidental death may require a postmortem or inquest; there is a funeral to arrange; and there are many other organisations to contact, from schools to benefit offices.

When I started this campaign ten years ago after the death of my son Jack, I always hoped that a positive change would happen in his memory. 

I was told many times that I would not succeed but Jack’s Law will now ensure that bereaved parents are better protected in the future.

Campaigner Lucy Herd

We congratulate Lucy Herd for her success after a ten-year campaign.

There are many charities who offer support to the bereaved of one form or another.
If you need to support someone in bereavement, Kath Middleditch has advice that you may find helpful.

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