Why I want to close the loophole on paternity leave

Posted 25 April 2024

A guest post from Chris Elmore MP

The important Paternity Leave (Bereavement) Bill has its report stage in Parliament on April 26th. In this guest piece, Chris Elmore MP tells us about his Bill & the  difference it’ll make to people’s lives.

‘When I was successful in the ballot for Private Members Bills last year, my inbox was flooded with requests to take forward all manner of worthy issues. But my overriding thought was to take forward legislation that would result in a meaningful change for individuals and families on a day-to-day basis and make their lives that little bit less difficult.

From the outset, I want to put my thanks on the record to Gingerbread for supporting me in the Bill’s progress and for giving the Bill that all-important human dimension.

For a number of years, we have known about the loophole in current laws on paternity leave. Bereaved parents and guardians aren’t given the time they need to grieve, plan and adjust to life without the mother of their child. As a father, and as a husband, I couldn’t think of anything worse than losing my wife and the mother of our three-year-old, let alone losing her at the very start of our journey as parents.

The Paternity Leave (Bereavement) Bill is designed to be an extended form of paternity leave. It would grant a day-one employment right for the surviving partner, in the scenario that the mother of the child has died during pregnancy or as a consequence of childbirth.

I am pleased to say that during the progression of the Bill, since before Christmas, its remit has been expanded. If successful, the Bill would grant a day-one right to the surviving partner for the leave they need to adjust and plan for a life without a loved one.

The bereaved partner would be able to take up to 52 weeks leave during the first year of the child’s life. This would ensure they can act as the primary caregiver for the crucial first 12 months. Secondly, the bill has been expanded to give adoptive and surrogacy parents the same leave entitlement. Thirdly the bill will remove strict continuity of service requirements. This means that, should employed parents find themselves in these tragic circumstances, they will be able to take the leave when it is needed – even from the first day of their employment.

A further enhancement to the bill, which I’m pleased to see, is that it allows for a leave provision in situations where the child also dies. This means that the surviving partner is able to stay on paternity leave for a period of time.

In far too many cases, individuals have had to rely on the goodwill of their employers to be granted leave. This was the case for Aaron Horsey, who lost his wife Bernadette in childbirth. And Simon Thorpe who lost his wife to cancer after welcoming their baby boy into the world.

Simon also sees this issue from the employer’s perspective. He desperately wants to see this change as he acknowledges that he wouldn’t have been able to offer any more than five days compassionate leave if it was for a member of his team. Surviving partners and spouses shouldn’t be left at the mercy of whether they have an understanding employer.

I sincerely hope that the Bill, with the work that has progressed on it in the last few months, does indeed become law. If successful, it will make the lives of those who experience the most unimaginable of traumas that bit more manageable. Moreover, I’d hope that the Bill starts a much-needed debate on how we can go about improving maternity and employment rights – making them fit for 2024 and beyond.’