A flagship BBC current affairs programme has said it took it 800 attempts to get an MP on to discuss a controversial benefit cut by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). And when it did, the Conservative who dared to defend the cut got skewered by the host.
After 800 tries…
On Friday 11 May, the Victoria Derbyshire show was discussing the cut to bereavement benefits which came into force in April 2017. Previously, as the Guardian reported, a widowed parent would have got a £2,000 one-off payment in the event of a partner’s death. This would also have been supplemented by a weekly payment of £112, until the youngest child left full time education. This was payable for anything up to 20 years.
Changes in former chancellor George Osborne’s 2015 budget saw the one-off payment increase to £3,500, but the weekly payment reduce to around £80. The weekly payment is also now only paid for a maximum of 18 months.
Victoria Derbyshire says that it has tried over 800 times to get an MP who voted for these changes on the show:
‘There are specific cases we need to look at – but this change has helped more people than are disadvantaged’ [email protected]
After more than 800 invitations and more than a year of trying, one of the MPs who voted to cut the bereavement system has spoken to us. pic.twitter.com/tl6ZnDHyO2
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— Victoria Derbyshire (@VictoriaLIVE) May 11, 2018
Conservative MP Kevin Hollinrake was the politician who broke parliament’s wall of silence over the issue. But he didn’t exactly do a robust job of defending the cut – one which was criticised by Labour’s Debbie Abrahams as a “new low” for the Conservative government.
Defending the indefensible
Hollinrake claimed that:
the vast majority of people are better off under this new system. 62% are better off…
Host Chloe Tilley immediately tried to stop him in his tracks:
Really, though? They get a bigger payment up front, but then after 18 months there is no support and it used to be 18 years.
As BBC News reported, around 3,500 people qualified for the new bereavement support between April 2017 and January 2018. Some of them were getting up to £100,000 less under the new system. The “Life Matters” task force estimates that 75% of UK families affected by bereavement would be worse off under the new system.
Not that Hollinrake seemed concerned. He argued that the old system meant the DWP was supporting even the richest people. But as Tilley noted, the widowed parents were:
going to have to work more, aren’t they? That’s the point… ‘People will have to do two or three jobs. When a child should be spending quality time with their remaining parent, that parent is going to have to work more’.
Hollinrake said that there were “specific circumstances” that need to be looked at. But as the Childhood Bereavement Network noted, 88% of widowed parents are £12,000 worse off under the new scheme, and 91% are supported for a shorter time.
The DWP says…
The DWP said of the changes:
The old system, introduced more than 90 years ago, was based on the outdated assumption that a widowed parent relied on their spouse for income, and would never work themselves.
The new.. payment restores fairness to the system and focuses support during the 18-month period after a loved one dies, when they need it the most.
But while the DWP talks of the old system being outdated, both the department and Hollinrake failed to adequately address the fact that cohabiting parents (not married or in a civil partnership) are entitled to nothing. This is despite there being 3.3 million such families in the UK.
Putting a price on grief
To save a meagre £100m a year (0.05% of the welfare budget) the government has cut support to families at one of the most traumatic points in their lives. It’s unclear how you can put an 18-month time limit on grief. But with the Conservative government, anything is possible.
Watch Hollinrake’s full interview:
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