I was prompted to write after reading about bereaved parents losing up to £100,000 in benefits.
I lost my husband suddenly almost 20 years ago when my children were nine and four. I received a lump sum to help with funeral costs and a monthly payment based on my husband’s National Insurance (NI) contributions.
This Widowed Mother’s Allowance (later Widowed Parent’s Allowance) lasted until my son’s 19th birthday and my daughter was 17 and I remarried.
In April last year, the Government replaced this allowance with the Bereavement Support Payment, also based on NI contributions, but at a slightly higher rate.
Although this is now paid to childless couples, co-habiting partners are still not eligible, and most importantly, it is only payable to all groups in the first 18 months. According to a Government spokesman this “focuses support” and encourages bereaved parents to “adjust to single life”.
Anyone who has lost a loved one will know that the bereavement process lasts far longer than 18 months, and when that person is your partner, the impact is felt in every area of your life. No wonder it is regarded as the most stressful life event a person can face.
Add to this the responsibility of being the sole carer for often confused and traumatised children, who may take years to process their experience as they grow up.
For me, the Widowed Mother’s Allowance was certainly not enough to live on, but it was absolutely essential to help me “adjust to single life”. It allowed me to pay for after-school care and to take Fridays off, ‘Mammy Days’, as my daughter called them.
It gave me time to cry without worrying the children. Later, it allowed me to do all those jobs that can’t be fitted around an 11-hour commuting and working day when there’s only one of you to do everything. Most important, it allowed me to give my children my full attention and to create a little window of homely comfort and security in an otherwise punishing week.
The need for this didn’t end after 18 months. In fact, had I had to return to my stressful job full-time I have no doubt that my physical and mental health, my ability to do my job, and the wellbeing of my children would all have suffered with who knows what long-term costs to health and social services and the benefits system.
This huge reduction in financial support seems deeply unfair, given that the bereaved will never benefit from the pensions to which their partners contributed throughout their lives.
At best this legislation is ill thought through and short-sighted, but from where I stand it looks positively Dickensian; deeply unfair and indifferent.
An MP said that there was no evidence of concern because none of his constituents had contacted him. It could be that those who are affected are in no fit state to do so.
Perhaps the rest of us should.
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