Watching your premature baby in an incubator hooked up to oxygen, being assisted to breathe, is an incredibly difficult experience. I know, because both of my children have been through it.
At present, statutory paternity leave does not work for the parents of sick and premature babies who can typically spend weeks on neonatal intensive care units.
Yesterday in Parliament, I called the UK Government out over their failure to bring into law changes that they had promised to make years ago which would provide support for these parents.
Parents can sometimes be lucky enough to have an understanding employer, but quite often it is the case that they need to return to work while their baby is receiving care on a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
When I was first elected in 2017, I decided that to do all I could to see the law changed to better support these parents through some of the toughest days and weeks of their lives. I began lobbying the UK Government, taking the issue to Ministers, Secretaries of State and even directly to the prime Minister.
I was delighted when the Government held a review and committed to looking into the issue further and despite that review process taking longer than I would have liked, was happy to see the Government decide to take action.
In December 2019, the Queen’s Speech outlined that the UK Government’s legislative programme for the parliamentary session ahead would include an Employment Bill, as well as a commitment that the Bill would allow parents to take extended leave for neonatal care.
After almost two years and a global pandemic, I fear that the issue is falling off the radar.
The most recent Queen’s Speech, in May of this year, made no mention of this Employment Bill. I outlined the serious impact that this omission would have on the parents of sick and premature babies at that time.
The Government has failed to act and is ignoring the plight of families who have now had to face the double-whammy of insufficient statutory leave coupled with accessing neonatal support during a deadly pandemic.
This simply isn’t good enough.
Although I welcome the Government’s ongoing commitment to bring these changes into law, its inaction in doing so means that thousands more families have not had that little bit of extra support that they needed.
I will continue to work on this at Parliament on a cross-party basis to ensure that the Employment Bill is prioritised.
Until these promises are brought into law, the families of sick and premature babies will continue to deserve more support.