Month: March 2017

It’s so unfair

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There is a campaign currently underway against changes proposed by the government, by people who it won’t affect for people who mostly don’t know it will affect them. 

The government are proposing to ‘modernise’ bereavement support to make it a ‘fairer’ system and to target support to when it is needed ‘most’.

Currently, if a married parent dies and they have paid enough national insurance contributions, the surviving parent is entitled to Widowed Parents Allowance (WPA) until their youngest child leaves full time education or until they remarry or move in with a partner (the irony, as cohabiting couples aren’t entitled to claim WPA!) This is not a welfare benefit. It is the pension that the person who died paid into, but will never get to claim. It is administered by the pensions department. It rises in line with the old age pension, because it is a pension. 

But this is about to change. The system is being ‘modernised’. Excellent! Are they going to extend the provision to unmarried couples? No. As of 6th April 2017 if a parent dies the surviving spouse will be entitled to financial support for only 18 months. It will be tax free, and won’t impact any other benefits or stop if the person remarries. Well that’s ok then, because grieving and the impact of losing a parent on a child only lasts 18 months!? I don’t think so. 

Part of the justification of this suggestion by Richard Harrington, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Pensions in the debate in the Work and Pension Committee on Thursday 2nd March was,

” the old system could be unfair and complex, and could act as a trap preventing people from readjusting. Reform is essential to simplify and modernise the system. The history of bereavement benefits is rooted in the Widows’, Orphans’ and Old Age Contributory Pensions Act 1925. The way that people thought in those days was that most women were wholly dependent on their husband’s income. If a woman was widowed, her sole source of income would disappear completely, so it was considered necessary to provide a replacement income for her to survive.​

Today, women as well as men actively participate in the workforce, and many households now benefit from dual careers and dual incomes. That is why we are modernising bereavement support into a simple, uniform and easy-to-understand benefit that better reflects society. We listened to the recommendation of the Work and Pensions Committee that there was merit in considering the length of the new bereavement support payment. For that reason, the bereavement support payment is now payable over 18 months.”

The idea that this system ‘could act as a trap preventing people from readjusting’ is ludicrous! Because after the death of a spouse it’s just a case of ‘readjusting’? Nothing to do with grieving, coping, getting through each day and helping your children do the same? This isn’t a lifestyle choice to get used to, it is a situation that has been thrust upon us. 

Women may not be wholly dependant on their husbands income as often these days, but sometimes they are, or sometimes the man has given up his job to care for his terminally ill wife. Or, as Mr Harrington points out, often families have ‘dual careers and dual incomes’ but they also probably have mortgages and outgoing so to match. So if that income is slashed in half overnight, then what? Add a house move to downsize in with all the other upheaveal?

There is no time limit on grief and if there was it certainly wouldn’t be 18 months. As I’ve written about before, I certainly found the second year after losing my husband even harder than the first. Bereaved children need stability. Their world has been turned upside down in the most horrific way possible. They often become fearful of change and are scared that something will happen to their surviving parent. They can experience all sorts of emotions such as anxiety, anger, sadness and the person they want to be there is their parent. This doesn’t stop after 18 months. In fact for many children it doesn’t start until many months have passed. 

Another consideration is the job that the surviving parent did before their spouse died is not always compatible with single parenthood. They might’ve been working long hours or in a job involving a lot of travel. So they have to take less well paid jobs that don’t match their experience or qualifications for something with more child friendly hours.The amount currently payable in WPA is not a huge amount and it is taxable, but it does offer some financial stability at a very unstable time. 

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. The transcript from the parliamentary committee can be read here if you’re interested in reading more

The main point is that Widowed Parents Allowance is money that was paid into the national insurance system by the deceased person. If they hadn’t died prematurely they would be claiming at as a pension. 

This doesn’t affect current claimants, so I’m one of the ‘lucky’ ones, but it will affect those parents who are widowed on or after 6th April 2017. Many bereavement charities are lobbying parliament and there are some MPs who are opposing the proposals. A final decision is due in the next 2 weeks, so if you feel moved to take a stand for these people who don’t know they will need this help, then you can write to your MP here (you can amend the template letter and I personally removed the suggestion that extended the time from 18 months to 3 years).

Thank you on behalf of those who sadly don’t know they should be thanking you themselves.