Parental bereavement leave and pay: review of extension of entitlement

Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 31st January 2018.

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‘The Secretary of State must, within three months of this Act being passed, lay a report before Parliament reviewing the extension of entitlement to parental bereavement leave and pay to people who are self-employed or are employed on zero-hours contracts.’—

This new clause would require the Secretary of State to review the extension of parental bereavement leave and pay to self-employed people and those on zero-hours contracts.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Consumer Affairs)

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

Parental bereavement leave is a contributory benefit. As set out, those bereaved parents who are envisaged to be eligible for leave under the Bill will need to meet the minimum requirements relating to continuity of employment—they will need at least 26 weeks with their current employer. During that leave, earnings will be paid at the statutory flat rate, which is set at £140.98 a week or 90% of average earnings, whichever is lower. Later, under other amendments, we can have a debate about how far short those provisions fall of what we want, but I urge the Minister to consider how these entitlements for bereaved parents will be extended to those in precarious work, such as those on zero-hours contracts.

That is important because, as we have all agreed, the Bill is about supporting parents who suffer the awful experience of having to bury their own child. This surely cannot and should not be reduced to a matter of work contracts. Our starting principle is the loss of a child, so I urge Minister to include as many bereaved parents as possible within the Bill’s remit. Remember, many people on precarious contracts are on them because it is so difficult for them to find the permanent, secure employment that we would all wish to have. Many of them are struggling because there are too few employment protection rights anyway. If they do go through the awful nightmare of losing their child, they will continue to lose out.

I remind the Minister that the loss of a child can often lead to the complete breakdown of a marriage. Sadly, in the ordinary course of events, 50% of marriages end in divorce, but some studies show that the death of a child makes the bereaved parents eight times more likely to divorce than other couples. There is a social cost to divorce, and it is often borne by the state as well as the families. Bereaved parents are more likely to develop depression and other mental health issues. Some turn to drink or other forms of self-medication; some even drop out of the workplace altogether and become economically inactive. I say that to the Minister because apart from the compassion that the Bill should show to bereaved parents who might be excluded from it under its current terms, from a purely financial perspective—leaving the compassion behind—it makes sense to offer that monetary support during the critical early days following a bereavement.

I urge the Minister to give serious consideration to including these provisions in the Bill, so that parents who are doing their best and working hard, but do not enjoy the security of a permanent contract and all the rights that it confers, do not miss out should they face this awful tragedy. We should extend the rights to them as well.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton

I have a great deal of sympathy with many of the hon. Lady’s arguments. The world of employment is changing rapidly. We are in a new world. Although I have been self-employed virtually all my life and I see self-employment as a wonderful opportunity for people to get on in life, there is no doubt that some companies are using another kind of opportunity to circumvent the employment laws that have been developed over centuries, so that it is easier and cheaper for them to employ people. The concern is that that is also being done to avoid the other obligations that employers have to employees, which is the point the hon. Lady was getting at.

Truly self-employed people tend to have more flexibility in their work, so they have other means of taking the time off that is required in these tragic circumstances, but we do not want future employers to use that to circumvent legislation. We need to look at that, and the Government are looking at it in the form of the Taylor review, which considers modern working practices. In July, as the hon. Lady knows, it reported on the overall context of legislation, including its impact on self-employed people and whether the gig economy is being abused to get round employment rights. The provisions in the Bill generally mirror other parental entitlements. The Taylor review may well recommend that some other parental provisions apply in these circumstances, which may affect this legislation in future. We need to look at the difference in entitlement between employed and self-employed people.

Throughout the process, we were keen to engage with charities and to listen to how we might improve the legislation based on their experiences. I mentioned some of them in my opening remarks. They include Elliot’s footprint, Together for Short Lives, the National Bereavement Alliance, the Rainbow Trust and Bliss. Other bodies such as Unison have submitted points to consider; people will be familiar with many of them. Charities suggested that we look at the issues around self-employment. We and the Government should consider that in the context of wider employment legislation.

Another matter that I do not have much influence over in this Committee, and which would complicate things in a way that none of us wants, is the impact on the Exchequer. It is important to state that we are spending taxpayers’ money. The financial context is that under the new clause, the Exchequer would pay the statutory pay for people in these circumstances. We have to take that into account. That amount has not been calculated, so that could cause more delays.

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Consumer Affairs)

I remind the hon. Gentleman that there may well be a social cost if people do not get the support that they need. The statistics around bereaved parents do not make for comfortable reading.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton

The hon. Lady makes a very good point, and I would not argue against that for a minute. My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester talked about the impact of the employer treating his workforce properly and how that can lift morale, or certainly does not damage morale, and how treating people with consideration can get people back to work more quickly. I am sure that that applies in a wider social context.

My point was that for any legislation, we look at the impact assessment, including the obvious hard-cash impact. In this case, that would require a revisitation of the assessment, which could cause delays in the Bill process. At this point, it is probably fairer to let the Minister have his say, because he is best placed to respond to those points.

Photo of Laura Pidcock Laura Pidcock Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Labour) 2:45 pm, 31st January 2018

I agree strongly with the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran. When we think of any of the provisions in the Bill, it is quite easy to think about who is entitled, but much harder to think about who is not. Morally, the disqualification of people who have been through such a horrendous experience does not sit well with any of us.

There are 4.5 million self-employed people in the UK. As the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton rightly said, working practices in this nation are becoming less secure. I do not say that in a judgmental sense, but there is more fracture, there are more self-employed people and nearly 9,000 people in the UK are on zero-hours contracts. The Bill will be meaningless for them unless the extensions are included.

Let us be honest: most people across the nation do not have the option of not working. People take whatever work is available in their area, whether it is secure or not. Many people cannot choose their hours or their income, but when bereaved, they face exactly the same pain and grief. We have discussed how the Bill mirrors other entitlements, but I think the whole Committee would agree that it deals with exceptionally painful circumstances, so it is right that exceptional provision should be made.

I agree that a saving for the Treasury in one place could mean a cost in another. As has been mentioned, the TUC is gravely concerned about zero-hours contracts and self-employed people. Until greater rights and freedoms are established in law to allow precarious workers to organise, it is up to the Government to extend entitlements to them. Thankfully, we are not talking about a huge pool of people nationally, so including agency workers and people on zero-hours contracts would be a small extension to the Bill. Unfortunately, the number of childhood deaths per year has stayed the same on average.

I do not think that it is beyond the Government to make this commitment. I support the new clause.

Photo of Andrew Griffiths Andrew Griffiths Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

I thank the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran for tabling the new clause and for focusing on the social cost, which is very important. We can get caught up in the amount of money involved or the cost to the Exchequer, which I will come back to, but this is fundamentally about the cost to human lives, relationships and happiness. As she rightly says, the grief that ensues after the loss of a child can easily cause family breakdown or divorce.

One issue that I have tried to tackle in my time as a Member of Parliament is drug and alcohol addiction. I do a great deal of work with a rehab organisation in my constituency, the Burton Addiction Centre. I regularly go there to talk to people in various stages of recovery. There is often a trigger in somebody’s life that can tip them into alcohol or drug abuse, domestic violence or any of a whole host of things that make their life spiral down. Putting those people back together again and dealing with the consequences of crime and antisocial behaviour brings about a cost to society that the Government are aware of and are working to address.

Photo of Antoinette Sandbach Antoinette Sandbach Conservative, Eddisbury

The Government have made some important progress with the national bereavement care pathway. The lack of support given to parents at the point of loss often means that they turn to legal or illegal medication that may not be good for them. The 11 pilots being rolled out will mean that every parent, whatever loss they suffer, will get some kind of bereavement support. I hope that that support, going hand in hand with the Bill, will make a real difference to parents’ lives and minimise the risk of that path being followed.

Photo of Andrew Griffiths Andrew Griffiths Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

There have been and there continue to be many occasions in this House when I listen to a debate and think, “Crikey! There are so many people who know so much more about this thing than I do.” The biggest example of that is the experience of some hon. Members in this Committee room today. I am in awe of and humbled by it. My hon. Friend has been a beacon in trying to change the Government’s approach to this issue. She speaks so powerfully, and with such emotion and passion, and it is understandable why she does so. She has been hugely successful in making the Government sit up and notice these things, and do something about them.

There has not been a lack of desire to tackle these issues on the part of the Government. It is just that within Government, in the daily work, pressures and all the other things come across Ministers’ desks, sometimes these things can get forgotten. What my hon. Friend has been brilliant in doing is making sure that we do not forget; she has been a voice for people affected in this way. She is absolutely right that the Government have done many things that we should be proud of and that will make a massive contribution, and I thank her for the role that she has played.

Fundamentally, new clause 2 deals with those people who are in irregular work—those people who are either on zero-hour contracts or in some way working in what is often called the gig economy. The Government have to be aware of the changes in the way that people are working.

I am sure, Mr Gray, that you are an avid user of Uber.

I would lose that illusion, if I were you. Black cabs for me, thanks.

Photo of Andrew Griffiths Andrew Griffiths Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

And you are always ordering your takeaway on the app on your mobile phone.

Again, I think you should be cautious about what you predict.

Photo of Andrew Griffiths Andrew Griffiths Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

But it is absolutely right that the way in which people work and are employed, and the way in which consumers engage with services and contractors, has changed dramatically because of technology and the way that our lives are developing. As my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton said, the Government have instigated the Taylor review. Matthew Taylor was commissioned to undertake an in-depth, detailed review last year of modern working practices. The question around the balance of rights and benefits between the employed and the self-employed has become much more relevant as we move away from conventional employment relationships, and there is a greater prevalence of new business models and employment practices.

I met Matthew Taylor just last night to talk about his review and his aspirations. It became clear from that discussion that his review is a stepping stone, and that these kinds of employment practices will continue to change and develop.

Photo of Will Quince Will Quince Conservative, Colchester

Many of us, me included, are broadly sympathetic to the points that the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran is making. The concern on the Government side—certainly it is my concern—is about overcomplicating the Bill, thereby putting it in jeopardy. My hon. Friend the Minister mentioned the Taylor review, which is particularly interesting. Could he give me comfort by confirming that this Bill, if it remained unamended in this regard, would fall under the scope of the Taylor review and its recommendations?

Photo of Andrew Griffiths Andrew Griffiths Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I hope that I can give him the comfort he seeks. The Taylor review made a number of recommendations, including some relating specifically to the self-employed and those on zero-hours contracts, as has been said. It might be helpful for the Committee if I clarified the position on the employment status of people who are engaged on zero-hours contracts.

There is a perception that individuals who have flexible work contracts—or who work on zero-hours contracts, as they are termed—automatically have fewer employment rights. That is not the case and an individual’s employment status is established by the reality of their working relationship. An employer cannot and must not remove statutory rights for an individual simply by getting them to sign up to a contract with flexible hours of work. That means that individuals who are on zero-hours contracts, part-time contracts or any other type of flexible arrangement can still be eligible for the same statutory employment rights as any full-time employee doing the same work. An individual on a zero-hours contract might already qualify for parental bereavement leave under the terms of the Bill. It is important to ensure that that point is not lost in these important discussions.

The Government’s response to the Taylor review is long awaited. We hope we can publish that review very shortly. I cannot at this stage give a definitive time, but I think the term “imminent” is—

Photo of Andrew Griffiths Andrew Griffiths Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

Yes. There is a great expectation that in the very near future, the response to the review will come from the Government, and I think it will address such issues. The review included comments about the approach to tax, parental leave and pay entitlements for self-employed people. I suggest that this is not the time to include the new clause in the Bill. I think it is presumptive for us to talk unilaterally about this issue when in a short period of time, wider employment rights—

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Consumer Affairs)

I just want to be clear that I understand the Minister correctly. Is he assuring us that when the Taylor review reports, and the Government reflect on it, any concerns raised in new clause 2 will be addressed by the Government?

Photo of Andrew Griffiths Andrew Griffiths Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

I can reassure the hon. Lady that the Government’s response to the Taylor review will, I am sure, specifically address the points made by Matthew Taylor in relation to flexible working, zero-hours contracts and parental benefits. I think I can give her some comfort that those are exactly the kind of things that Matthew Taylor is passionately promoting and that the Government are keen to respond to in the near future.

It would be easy for us to get caught up in the wider discussion about employment rights and what will happen in response to the Taylor review. It is worth remembering the drivers behind the Bill, and the previous Bill brought forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester. I understand his nervousness about over-complicating what is in effect a framework Bill.

My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton, whose Bill this is, makes the clear point that the Bill has to be properly costed. All Members of the Committee will understand. We have among us an eminent colleague with ministerial experience at the Treasury who is looking at me. I understand what is going through his mind. He wants to ensure that there are rigorous numbers attached to this. Accepting the new clause would make the process much more complex and should be avoided.

The Bill and its predecessor have come about because, at a time of tragedy, time away from the workplace was either not allowed or extremely limited. That is the issue we are trying to address, and I do not want to lose sight of that as we debate these important issues.

Photo of Laura Pidcock Laura Pidcock Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Labour)

I just want to be absolutely sure about the Taylor review. The Minister mentioned that matters such as self-employment will be discussed. Would the Bill, if enacted, retrospectively cover those people? Would it be stated in detail that the Bill would be covered by the Taylor review? The same goes for precarious work. I just want a guarantee.

Photo of Andrew Griffiths Andrew Griffiths Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 3:00 pm, 31st January 2018

I can absolutely reassure the hon. Lady that the response to the Taylor review will consider the issue of flexible working, those on zero-hours contracts and their access to benefits. It will be covered; I can reassure the hon. Lady of that.

With those reassurances, I hope we can agree that it will be best to consider issues of rights and entitlements for the self-employed and those working on zero-hours contracts in the round, rather than in isolation as we would be doing with the new clause. Since those issues are being actively considered elsewhere, the Bill is not the right place to address them. On that basis and with those reassurances, I hope the hon. Lady will withdraw her new clause.

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Consumer Affairs)

In the light of the Minister’s assurances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

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