The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has quietly confirmed that some grieving parents are not entitled to support – issuing a slap in the face to up to 1.3 million families.
The DWP: heartless reforms
As The Canary previously reported, in April 2017 the government cut bereavement support payments for widowed parents. Previously, they would have got a £2,000 one-off payment in the event of a partner’s death. The DWP used to supplement this with a weekly payment of £112, until the youngest child left full-time education. This was payable for anything up to 20 years and known as Bereavement Allowance.
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 DWP now only pays the weekly amount for a maximum of 18 months. It’s called the Bereavement Support Payment.
But crucially, Bereavement Support Payments are not open to the 1.3 million co-habiting families in the UK with dependent children. And on 25 June, the DWP confirmed it would not be changing its mind.
A cold response
On 13 June Baroness Altmann asked the government:
why cohabiting couples with young children are not eligible for Bereavement Support Payments.
Marriage and civil partnerships are legal contracts that are associated with certain rights, including inheritance, recognition in the tax system and entitlement to certain benefits.
A key principle of the National Insurance system is that all rights to benefits derived from another person’s contributions are based on the concept of legal marriage or civil partnership.
Moreover, proving that cohabitation existed could be a complex process likely to cause distress at a time of bereavement.
However, cohabitees do have access to income-related benefits. They may also qualify for help with funeral costs from the Social Fund…
The very fact that the DWP acknowledges it gives some co-habiting couples benefits is cruelly hypocritical.
The cuts to the benefit themselves were contentious enough. 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.
But now, the DWP is potentially abandoning 1.3 million families, and one charity is not happy.
Georgia Elms from the charity WAY Widowed and Young told The Canary:
We believe it is absolutely unjust that co-habiting couples are not entitled to receive the same financial lifeline as married couples, who have paid exactly the same amount into the National Insurance pot from which this money is drawn. Their children are being penalised and discriminated against for a choice made by their parents – many of whom are simply unaware that their decision not to get married would have such a devastating financial impact on their family if one of the couple happens to die. Many WAY Widowed & Young members agree that this system is not fit for the 21st century and needs to be changed immediately to protect bereaved families from more financial and emotional hardship in future.
The DWP had previously said that the old Bereavement Allowance was “outdated”. Yet by not recognising co-habiting parents, it hasn’t kept up with modern family life either.
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