New Clause 54 - Extension of emergency leave entitlement to grandparents
Children and Families Bill
1:46 pm

‘In section 57A(3) of the Employment Rights Act 1996 insert after (d)—

“(e) a grandchild.”.’.—(Lisa Nandy.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

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Lisa Nandy (Shadow Minister (Education); Wigan, Labour)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

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Dai Havard (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, Labour)

With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 55—Adjustment leave—

‘(1) A qualifying employee who satisfies prescribed conditions may be absent from work at any time during an adjustment leave period.

(2) An adjustment leave period is a period calculated with regulations made by the Secretary of State.

(3) The regulations under subsection (2) shall include provision for determining the extent of an employee’s entitlement to leave under this section but shall secure that where an employee is entitled to leave under this section he is entitled to at least six weeks’ leave.

(4) An employee who exercises his rights under subsection (1)—

(a) is entitled, for such purposes and to such extent as may be prescribed, to the benefit of the terms and conditions of employment which would have applied if he had not been absent,

(b) is bound, for such purposes and to such extent as may be prescribed, by any obligations arising under those terms and conditions (except in so far as they are inconsistent with subsection (1)), and

(c) is entitled to return from leave to a job of a prescribed kind;.

(5) For the purposes of this section, an employee is a qualifying employee if—

(a) he is the parent or carer of a disabled child or adult and his purpose for applying for adjustment leave is to secure a temporary period of absence to deal with a period of illness or diagnosis of disability of the cared-for child or adult; or

(b) he is the bereaved parent of a child under the age of 18 and his purpose in applying for adjustment leave is to secure a temporary period of absence to deal with funeral and other arrangements due to the death of his child.’.

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Lisa Nandy (Shadow Minister (Education); Wigan, Labour)

The purpose of new clause 54 is to enable a grandparent to take a reasonable amount of time off work to provide care when a grandchild is ill or to deal with unexpected events at school such as school closures due to poor weather, which occurred recently in many parts of the country, including in my constituency.

At the moment, emergency leave provisions to deal with family emergencies are available to parents, and employers must enable them to take a few days’ unpaid leave—typically up to three days—to make arrangements for the provision of care. Current legislation does not make it clear whether that entitlement is also available to grandparents where they are relied on to provide child care for grandchildren.

The new clause would give families the flexibility to make their own decisions about how best to deal with family emergencies and, for example, to enable the impact of family emergencies, such as a child’s illness, to be spread across the wider family. Some families would prefer a working grandparent to take the time off to provide care when a child is ill or a school is unexpectedly closed. The new clause would help parents to balance work and their caring responsibilities and relieve the pressure on families that arises when children are ill. It would be of particular value to younger families where the grandparents are more likely still to be in work and are unavailable to provide help in a family emergency and make it easier for parents—and mothers, especially—to work.

Currently, one in four working families depend on grandparents to provide child care. I take the opportunity to pay tribute to the work that grandparents do in caring for their grandchildren. However, I recognise that words alone are not enough. Grandparents who  are working are more likely than those who are retired to look after their grandchildren, reflecting the fact that working grandparents and their grandchildren are generally younger: 70% of working grandparents say they look after their grandchildren and 29% of grandparents are working.

Half of grandparents with grandchildren under the age of 16 are of working age. As the retirement age, especially for women, is delayed, increasing numbers of them will be in the work force. At the moment, much of the child care is provided by grandmothers aged between 55 and 65 who are no longer working. An ageing population means that our work force is becoming older and there is an expectation for people to stay longer in employment in order to grow our economy and to fund pensions, social care and other provisions in later life.

It will also become increasingly important that grandparents, especially grandmothers, are able to combine work and informal caring responsibilities. Employers will need to retain experienced older workers through offering flexibility. The simple provision of extending emergency leave entitlement to grandparents when children are ill or schools are closed will make it easier for all members of the family, parents and grandparents, to reconcile caring with employment. As such, it fits with much of the thrust of the measures in the Bill that we warmly welcome.

We believe the impact on employers overall will be minimal as the amendment will have the effect of spreading across different employers the impact of employees' absence due to a family emergency, rather than one employer, typically the mother’s, experiencing the full impact. In Denmark for example, it is customary when a child is ill for the mother to take the first day off work, the father the second, and a grandparent the third, if needed.

We discussed earlier in the Bill the impact that the burden of caring responsibilities has on women and the extreme discrimination that women continue to face in the workplace. I know the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills feels as strongly about that as I do. We think the amendment could play a significant part in helping to distribute that burden and, therefore, break down some of that discrimination that women already face.

Proposed new clause 55 would introduce a new form of leave to allow temporary absence from work during a time of crisis, diagnosis of disability or for parents when a child under the age of 18 tragically dies. A new form of adjustment leave is needed to help families in crisis stay in work.

The organisation Working Families recently surveyed 1,000 parents of disabled children and found alarmingly high levels of unemployment and underemployment: 27% of respondents were not in paid work and over 80% of those had given up work to care for their disabled child.

The lack of time to adjust to the needs of a disabled child may be unnecessarily pushing parents out of work. Disability diagnosis does not necessarily happen during maternity or first-year leave. Many disabilities only become apparent as the child grows up, or may emerge as the result of an illness or accident. Parents in work need more support through what may be a family crisis.

When a child is being diagnosed as disabled, or when an employee becomes a carer overnight, the parent may consider giving up work, and many health, care and education professions expect parents to do so. Parents also report that some employers are unreasonable in the amount of unpaid leave that they are prepared to offer and interpret the current guidance as setting a maximum of two or three days. As a result, some parents leave the work force entirely.

However, if they give up, it is very difficult to return to the labour market later. In the Working Families’ survey over 90% of parents of disabled children who were out of work wanted to return to employment but over half had been out of work for at least six years. A recent report by Carers UK and Employers for Carers found 2.3 million adults have given up work to care for an elderly parent or disabled or seriously ill loved one, and almost 3 million had reduced their working hours.

Flexible hours, over the longer term, are clearly a useful option and we warmly welcome the extension of the right to request flexible working to all employees. However, a new form of leave is needed to address the immediate demands on parents and carers who need to attend numerous hospital or other appointments during a period of diagnosis or crisis. Many carers have little or no warning of the demands that are placed on them when an elderly parent falls ill or a partner is diagnosed with cancer.

A flexible working request can take several months to complete, notwithstanding the Minister’s reassurance that most will not. The point is that it can, and it results in a permanent change to the contract. It might not be clear to a parent or carer what kind of flexibility they need over the long term because so much depends on the outcome of the diagnosis and the kind of care plan or educational support that they put in place. Unpaid parental leave is available only to those who have been with their employer for at least a year. It has to be requested within a 21-day notice period, and it is usually only available for a maximum of four weeks in a year. Carers do not even have access to the equivalent of unpaid parental leave.

Adjustment leave might also support parents who have suffered the death of a child under the age of 18. That group currently has no statutory leave beyond the short-term time off for dependants. In the immediate aftermath of a child’s death, parents have to cope with not only their own loss and the grief of their wider family, including any other children, but with a vast number of administrative and other arrangements. A sudden, or accidental, death might require a post-mortem or inquest. There is a funeral to arrange, and many other organisations to contact, from schools to benefit offices. Although there is no set amount of time for unpaid time off for dependants, the advice on gov.uk suggests that, in most cases, one or two days should be enough.

I would like to think that most people who find themselves in that awful situation have employers who are considerate and compassionate in responding to their needs. Sadly, we know that that is not always the case. Recently, a friend of mine who lost a parent in similar circumstances faced an unsympathetic employer. There is no guarantee for parents who find themselves in that situation that their employer will be compassionate.

Parents of disabled children report that the ability to work reduced and flexible hours for a couple of months is sufficient to enable them to put care arrangements in place and determine a realistic, long-term pattern of work. There would clearly be costs to employers, but the number of parents who are entitled to this new leave is small. We believe that there is also a strong business case for compassion. A recently bereaved parent is unlikely to perform at his or her best. Offering parents time to recover from their traumatic experience enables good employees to be retained in the workplace. In the long term, the cost of adjustment leave would be outweighed by the economic and social gains of keeping parents and carers in work and out of poverty. I therefore urge the Ministers to strongly consider accepting the new clauses.

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Jo Swinson (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities; East Dunbartonshire, Liberal Democrat)

I will first consider new clause 54, which seeks to extend to grandparents the right to time off for dependants. I recognise the important issues that the hon. Member for Wigan raised. I also recognise the vitally important role that grandparents play, not just in caring for children but in their development. They are part of the support network that is of huge benefit to new parents in particular, who have to deal with the challenges that parenthood brings.

The right to time off for dependants enables employees to take reasonable time off work to care or make arrangements for a dependant in an emergency. The definition of dependant in legislation is deliberately broad, and in many cases grandparents already qualify for leave. That is the case if the child lives in the same household as the grandparent, or if the child relies on the grandparent to care for them all or some of the time. Even if the grandparent only cares for the child on a Tuesday afternoon and picks them up from nursery, they qualify. Therefore, it is not necessary to include a specific provision for grandparents in the Bill. I am concerned that if we make it explicit, the list might be seen as exhaustive. We want to make sure that other relatives or carers can step in. Some parents are fortunate and have grandparents near by; others are not in that position and rely on family friends, aunts, uncles or other carers. We want to ensure that whoever has the care responsibility for the child is able to use the time off for dependants.

New clause 55 would introduce a new employment right for adjustment leave to enable the parent or carer of a disabled person time off work if they fell ill or received a diagnosis of disability. It would enable a bereaved parent to take time off to make arrangements following the death of a child under the age of 18. I am sure that we are all incredibly sympathetic with such horrendous circumstances. No parents should have to bury their child in any circumstances. It is not natural, but if such an appalling situation arose, most employers would want to act with a huge degree of compassion.

Equally, a diagnosis of disability can be a huge shock for a family, and take a significant time to work out how to deal with daily matters in life. Things will often be up in the air; there will be uncertainty about medical appointments and their outcomes. However, other types of leave are in place that meet the needs of many  parents and carers. Time off for dependants, which I have outlined, enables parents and carers to take reasonable time off. It would include time off for parents to make arrangements, following the death of a child.

I take on board what the hon. Lady said about the one to two days referred to on the website, and I am certainly happy to look at that advice. I think that it entirely depends on the emergency. In situations when a child breaks an arm, that is about going to A and E and getting it sorted, and I imagine that a day or two is probably sufficient time in which to put other arrangements in place, but other circumstances might require a longer time. Obviously each set of circumstances would be individual, as should be the response.

An adult with parental responsibility for a child under the age of five or a disabled child up to the age of 18 will also be entitled to take up to 18 weeks of unpaid parental leave to care for their child. Along with the changes under the Bill to introduce shared parental leave in 2015, we are increasing the age limit of all children whose parents qualify for that leave from five to 18 years. It is not only more straightforward and simple; it means 18 weeks’ leave for every child up to the age of 18 years. If anything, that makes the issue less of a burden on business because the amount of time that may be taken is spread out.

The change also recognises the huge number of reasons why parents might want to take unpaid parental leave. Issues might happen between ages zero to five, but there might be a range of other issues that are medical or emotional; there could be developmental problems when teenagers have difficult times settling into secondary schools or taking exams. There is a range of reasons why parents might want to take such leave, and we believe that that maximum flexibility is a helpful change. It will also enable many families whose children are diagnosed with a disability when aged more than five years to take time to adjust.

The extension of the right to request flexible working will also bring significant benefits for families and friends of disabled people and for disabled people themselves. We encourage trial periods of that change. I accept what the hon. Lady said about the unpredictability of such matters, and that they might change, so I hope that, with those reassurances, the hon. Lady will be happy to withdraw the motion because relevant mechanisms are already in place. However, I shall consider the particular issue of guidance from one to two days.

2:00 pm
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Lisa Nandy (Shadow Minister (Education); Wigan, Labour)

I am grateful to the Minister for her constructive approach and for clarifying the position of grandparents who already care for children some or all of the time. I take her point about the other relatives and wider support networks that we might wish to consider, and I hope that we shall continue to debate the matter and discuss how we can support care arrangements for families in the widest possible sense, including grandparents but, obviously, as the hon. Lady said, not limited to them. I am also grateful to her for taking on the existing concerns about guidance. Notwithstanding the fact that I still have several worries, which no doubt she shares, given her helpful reassurances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.