Parental leave

Mum holding her baby wrapped in a blanket on her chest

Parents of premature and sick babies are being forced to return to work when their baby is critically ill in hospital. For some, all of their time off from work is spent by their baby's cot side.

Current statutory maternity, paternity and shared parental leave entitlements are letting down both premature and sick babies and their families, and employers too.

Bliss has been calling for the Government to give parents an extra paid week off work for every week their baby is in neonatal care.

I lost three months while he was in hospital. Using maternity leave to visit him while he was 50 miles away every day felt like a kick in the teeth. I wanted more time with my baby at home.

Why are we campaigning on this issue?

Babies in neonatal care have better outcomes when their mums and dads are involved in providing hands-on care while they are in hospital. Yet every year thousands of parents have to return to work when their baby is still critically ill. Better support is needed to ensure babies have their parents by their side in hospital - where they need them.

Also, some babies will spend many weeks or months receiving care on the neonatal unit before they are well enough to go home. This means many parents use large amounts – or even all - of their leave entitlement before their baby goes home.

The neonatal environment is stressful, and parents need time to bond and adjust to time at home. Some babies will also have significant ongoing needs and may not be ready to be left in childcare by the time parents have to start work again.

Bliss' 2019 survey of over 700 parents found:

  • 66 per cent of dads and partners had to return to work while their baby was still receiving specialist neonatal care
  • 36 per cent of dads resorted to being signed off sick in order to spend time with their baby on the neonatal unit
  • 24 per cent of dads said they were concerned for their job if they asked for more time off
  • 77 per cent of parents felt like their parental leave was not long enough, with this figure rising to 90 per cent of parents whose baby spent 10 or more weeks in neonatal care, and 95 per cent of dads
  • Half of all parents would have liked to take more parental leave but couldn’t afford to take any longer off work
  • 11 per cent of parents left their jobs due to having insufficient leave after their baby was admitted to neonatal care.

How has Bliss been campaigning on this issue?

In December 2018 we met with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Minister with responsibility for this issue Kelly Tolhurst MP, along with MPs David Linden and Steve Reed MP who have both been active in highlighting this issue in Parliament.

In November we also met Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy civil servants leading a review of parental leave provisions for parents of premature and sick babies, and multiple births. We provided Officials with detailed evidence about how current statutory maternity, paternity and shared parental leave were letting down families of babies admitted to neonatal care.

Over 3,000 of you showed your support by calling on your MP to put pressure on the Government to extend leave for parents of babies in specialist care. Over 90% of MPs were contacted through this campaign thanks to you.

In July 2019, the Government announced that they were looking to introduce a new Neonatal Leave and Pay entitlement for employed parents when their baby is born needing neonatal care and they launched a consultation into how this would work in practice (which closed in October 2019).

While we are still waiting for the Government's response to the consultation, in December 2019 the new Government announced in the Queen’s Speech that Neonatal Leave and Pay will be introduced through an Employments Rights Bill. This is an amazing win, but Bliss will be working hard to make sure any new entitlement supports as many parents as possible.

Our work on this issues also dates back for a number of years:

  • In February 2014 we launched our campaign and policy report, Its Not A Game, to tackle the financial burden families face when their premature or sick baby is in hospital. This called on the Government to extend maternity leave and pay for these families. In response to our campaign, we secured a commitment in 2014 from the Department for Business, Innovations and Skills to review how their policy on parental leave is working for parents whose babies are admitted to neonatal care (28 Apr 2014 : Column 578W).
  • On World Prematurity Day 2016, Bliss joined The Smallest Things to hand in their petition to the Minister responsible for parental leave. So far 180,000 people had signed, joining their call to extend leave for mums of premature babies.
  • On Mother's day 2017 the Government made a Mother's Day Pledge to develop guidelines for employers so they can better support families when their baby is born premature or sick.
  • Bliss worked with ACAS to develop their 2017 Workplace support for parents of premature or sick babies

What are the different types of leave?

Mums can take up to 52 weeks maternity leave, depending on if they meet the criteria. Mums can choose to start their maternity leave before their baby is born, but if their baby is born before their chosen date their leave will start from the date of their baby’s birth.

Dads, mum’s partner or civil partner will be able to take up to two weeks paternity leave. This has to be taken with 56 days of the baby being born.

Since April 2015, mums and dads have been able to use shared parental leave. For mums there has been no change and their maternity leave starts as soon as their baby is born. However, they can then either take all 52 weeks themselves, or choose to share some of this with their partner.

For example, a mum could finish her leave at 26 weeks and her partner claim the rest, or they could both take 26 weeks together immediately after their baby’s birth.

If a baby sadly dies or is stillborn, parents are still entitled to take their full parental leave and thanks to the 2018 Parental Bereavement (Pay and Leave) Act, which Bliss also campaigned for, parents in employment are also entitled to two weeks paid leave if their child dies.