When my father died in the 1970s leaving a widow and three teenage children, my mother was entitled to a Widow’s Pension which was the equivalent to a State Pension and this was paid to her until she received the State Pension.
Following a challenge by a widower to the European Court of Human Rights, the Widow’s Pension was replaced by the Widowed Parent’s Allowance which was paid to mothers and fathers. A lump sum of £2,000 was also paid to bereaved spouses.
Bereaved spouses without children were entitled to Bereavement Allowance if aged 45 or over when their spouse died. This comprised the lump sum of £2,000 and a monthly payment paid until you remarried or cohabited or reached State Pension age.
These benefits ensured that bereaved families would receive financial support from the state for up to 20 years.
New Bereavement Support Payments
From 6 April this year, there will be a significant cut in payments to bereaved families. The new Bereavement Support Payment will only be paid for 18 months. Entitlement under the new scheme is as follows:
|Bereaved spouse with children under the age of 20 in fulltime education.||Lump sum £3,500||Monthly payment of £350 per month for 18 months.|
|Bereaved spouse with no children under the age of 20 in fulltime education.||Lump sum £2,500||Monthly payment of £100 per month for 18 months.|
The Government has offered a muddled rationale for this, saying that the period of 18 months gives the surviving parent a chance to get back into the workplace or set up the necessary childcare arrangements to go back to work.
They argue that supporting widows is outdated. Widows should no longer expect the State to step in and assist when they are capable for going to work themselves. Referring to “widows” overlooks the fact that the payment has been paid to both genders for 15 years.
It does not matter whether the deceased parent was working outside the home or caring for the children, there will still be a significant drop in household income when they die. Either their salary is lost or the surviving parent will have to start paying for childcare.
The surviving parent will still have to pay for the rent / mortgage, all household bills and the children’s expenses until the children grow up and become financially independent.
When parents divorce, the parent with custody of the children will usually receive maintenance from the other parent to assist with the loss of household income that follows the loss of a parent. Maintenance payments are paid until the children grow up.
New rules for bereaved families
Under the new rules, bereaved parents will suffer more financial hardship than families who have been through a divorce. The financial support provided by the state is now pared down to the absolute minimum. This can only add to the pressure that bereaved families are under.
Fortunately the numbers of bereaved families are relatively small and bereavement payments represent a tiny fraction of the total welfare benefit budget. The cuts will cause real hardship for the families affected without providing any significant benefit for the Government.