Under a new schemes to be introduced in April, bereavement benefits will be cut for most parents who lose their partner. The government have been widely criticised by MPs and bereavement groups for the reforms that would leave 75% of parents who lose their partner after April worse off in cash terms.
Despite repeated assurances that the reforms are not intended as a cost-saving measure, the Government announced in the budget that they were pressing ahead with changes that, once up and running, will drain £100m a year from support for widowed parents and their grieving children.
Georgia Elms from WAY said:
We are incredibly disappointed and dismayed that the government is still forging ahead with significant changes to bereavement support payments from April.
Analysis by the Childhood Bereavement Network (CBN) shows that 91% of widows will be supported for a shorter period under the bereavement support payment than under the current system. If the changes go through, instead of getting support until their youngest child leaves school, widowed parents will now get support for just 18 months.
Alison Penny of CBN said:
"The result of this policy will be that widowed parents will have to go back to work or increase their hours before their grieving children are ready. Most parents do an amazing job of getting back to work and building a new life around their children’s needs. The last thing we should be doing is interfering with that by putting them under pressure to find work or face sanctions."
MPs joined bereavement groups in condemning the reforms.
At a parliamentary debate on funeral poverty, Veteran Labour MP Frank Field said:
"It is a pity that the Government have not used this once-in-a-generation reform of bereavement benefits to bring their eligibility on a par with how people live their lives today."
Margaret Greenwood MP said:
"This reform appears simply to cut support to those grieving the loss of a loved one. The Government’s inaction in supporting the bereaved has gone on for too long, and what little action there has been appears to be to those people’s detriment."
Labour’s Stella Creasy MP spoke about Ros, a mum in her constituency who sadly lost her partner at a young age.
"Ros and her family would, under the new scheme, have lost out on more than £100,000 over the lifetime of her children."
Another blow came as the government refused to extend Widowed Parents' Allowance to parents who are cohabiting rather than married. Cohabiting couples are not recognised by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), who administer the support, although 21% of couples with children are unmarried.
Alison Penny of CBN said:
"We think around over 2,000 families with children lose out in this way each year. It simply doesn’t seem fair to deprive some children of financial support based on their parents’ marital status. It seems odd to treat cohabiting partners as a couple for means-tested benefits or tax credits when they are both alive, but then to refuse to recognise the significance of their relationship when one of them dies."
“Not to recognise cohabiting couples is short-sighted and illogical. Children will lose out financially because their parents decided, as they had every right to do, not to marry.”
Bereavement groups are also very worried about the government’s decision not to uprate benefits in line with inflation, meaning they are likely to lose value over time.
Patricia Gibson of the SNP urged the government:
"If this is not about saving money, will that £100 million be reinvested in helping the 75% of people who will lose out under the new measures?"
Explaining why the government refused to extend Widowed Parents Allowance to cohabiting parents, Richard Harrington MP speaking for the government said:
“Extending eligibility to cohabitees would not only increase spend, but be complex to administer. Having to prove cohabitation could be a lengthy, complex process, which could cause distress at a time of bereavement.”
Ask you MP to support the bereaved
The Childhood Bereavement Network and WAY Widowed and Young urge MPs to vote against these changes when the Bereavement Support Payment Regulations 2017 come before the House of Commons.