PARENTAL BEREAVEMENT BILL

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Daily Record, 18th May 2018

By Torcuil Crichton

While many politicians have big ideas about how they want to change the world, SNP MP Patricia Gibson has made a small change that will help thousands of grieving parents, says Torcuil Crichton.

Often, in fact always, people come into politics to change the world with a big idea.

Yet, look back on the biographies of most politicians – even those at the very top – and they are remembered in one or two lines for one or two things.

Tessa Jowell, who was so fondly commemorated this week, had many achievements, utmost among them was having no enemies.

She will be remembered for the London Olympics, for the Sure Start intiative for children and the way she confronted her illness. Over time, the list gets reduced to maybe one word.

David Cameron – Brexit. Alex Salmond – referendum. Tony Blair – Iraq.

Political careers amount to much more but history’s tide leaves little evidence of the sandcastles that are built.

When Patricia Gibson arrived in Westminster in the wave of SNP MPs in 2015 it must have seemed to her and her colleagues that history was beckoning for their big idea.

At the time, as far as I knew, Gibson’s passions were Charles Dickens and independence.

No doubt Scotland’s future remains her pole star but she has discovered, like many other MPs, that political passion can find other expression.

The tedious, line by line work MPs do on Bills goes largely unreported. News demands drama, not boring detail, but last week the Ayrshire and North Arran MP managed to secure an important amendment to the Parental Bereavement Bill.

A lot of people don’t realise that when a child dies, parents are not entitled to any leave at all, paid or unpaid.

Of course, most employers are considerate, equally some are not. That is why we need laws to give people rights.

Patricia Gibson's amendment means grieving parents will be entitled to leave after losing a child.

The Bill will give two weeks’ leave and pay for employees whose children have died.

“It is not a perfect Bill but it is a good start,” Gibson told me this week.

She wanted the Bill to help people on zero-hour contracts, which the Government have promised to consider.

Two other proposals, that bereavement leave could be taken at any time in the first year after a death and that there be no upper limit on the age of a deceased child were unsuccessful but Gibson is hopeful the Lords and a consultation will make the changes. She said: “I tried to get them to lift the 18-year-old age limit – the age of the child doesn’t make the grief any less.”

However, she was successful in putting down an amendment to make sure parents who suffer a stillbirth will get the same two-week protection under the law.

This was driven by Gibson’s own tragic and life-changing experience of having had to bury her own child.

She has spoken movingly in the past about the heartache of losing her baby son in 2009 after he was stillborn.

“Because my baby was stillborn at full term, I had entitlement to maternity leave,” said Gibson.

“But if my baby had died at one year old I wouldn’t have this cover. Sadly, it is only when you’re in the position that you find out there is no ­bereavement cover in place.”

She added: “If you understand the personal trauma it brings and the shadow it cast over your life, you realise you have quite a sacred duty to make things better for people in the future if you can.”

That is not a trite thing to say.

Gibson enacted a small change, kindled by the memory of her own lost child, which will end up helping thousands of parents in what she can personally attest is “their darkest hour”.

Deafened by the sound and fury of big ideas, we’re apt to forget this is what a lot of politics is actually about.

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