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18 months on: cuts to bereavement support start to bite

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Today marks the 18-month anniversary of changes to the bereavement support system that will leave dozens of widowed families worse off from this month. On 6 April 2017, bereavement support for bereaved families was cut to just 18 months – meaning that payments for some families will stop from this month.

WAY’s campaign spokesperson Georgia Elms, Vice-Chair of Life Matters, the task force for bereaved families, said: “From today, grieving families will start to feel the effects of the government’s action 18 months ago to scrap Widowed Parent’s Allowance and replace it with the shorter term Bereavement Support Payment. Because of these changes, the first families that were bereaved after 6 April 2017 will stop receiving bereavement support from today.

“Under the new system, widowed parents now only receive payments for 18 months after their partner’s death, which will leave many families struggling to make ends meet when their loss is still raw. The changes are expected to disproportionately affect families with young children, as they will no longer receive support until their youngest child leaves school – as was the case under the previous system. Grieving doesn’t stop suddenly after 18 months and there is a real risk that children whose parent had died may not get the support they need because of these changes.

“We are calling on the government to work with WAY Widowed and Young and members of the Life Matters Task Force to urgently review the impact of these changes to bereavement support and to look at ways to properly care for those who have been bereaved. Our view is that cuts to bereavement benefits, which are based on the National Insurance contributions of the parent who died, will have a long-term detrimental impact on thousands of bereaved parents and their children, increasing the stresses they face and reducing their capacity to cope with their loss. Nothing can take away the pain of a loved one’s death, but proper financial support can at least help provide the building blocks for a better future for these families.”

“No widow should have to face this uncertainty at one of the worst and most stressful times in their lives”

WAY member, Jo, whose husband died in May and whose 4-year-old daughter has just been diagnosed with autism, said: “My view is that, in many circumstances, 18 months will just not be long enough to adjust to the significant emotional changes and psychological impact in a bereaved person's life, let alone the financial changes that come with losing someone you were either entirely financially dependent on or relied partly on.” 

“I am not entirely clear on the reasoning for the Department for Work and Pension (DWP)’s decision to drastically reduce the length of time of this support,” she added. “However, on the face of it, I find the change completely ludicrous. The DWP should look at this change again – particularly in light of those who will now have or had their last payment – and its effect. Armed with the experiences of those affected by this change the DWP should further consider the effect it will continue to have on bereaved families and come up with a realistic solution.” 

Another WAY member, Fiona, who was widowed in May 2017, will lose her payments from next month. She told us: “At first I thought that 18 months of continuing payments would give me plenty of time to sort out my long-term finances. However, after 17 months, reality has set in about how much money I will not have coming in.”

“Like many people with children, my husband was the main bread winner, whilst I have worked part time in order to raise our children. I have gradually managed to increase my hours in the last 18 months to 22 hours per week, which allows me to drop off and pick up my children from school, and work during school hours. However, increasing my hours further and paying for childcare was not financially viable. My part-time wage was less than one third of my husband’s annual wage when he was alive. Even if I work 22 hours per week, my wage plus the pension allowance I receive from his pension provision is only around 3/8 of what our joint annual income was.

 “The financial worries about the future are just compounded by the fact that I am now a single, grieving parent of 2 teenage boys, struggling with my own health as well as the shock of being plunged into this unwanted life.

“The government encourage us to take out life insurance to safeguard the lives of our loved ones should the unthinkable happen, but at every twist and turn they are determined to claw everything from you. Despite the fact that both myself and my husband have paid into the system since we were 17 yet again the system lets us down. We never earned enough to be classed as rich, in fact we were barely earning above the threshold but were not entitled to anything whilst he was alive either. It is just another instance of the working families being penalised yet again.”

“No widow should have to face this uncertainty at one of the worst and most stressful times in their lives,” Fiona said.

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