Celebrating campaign success: Georgia's Story

February 2023

Georgia Elms was widowed in 2006 when her husband Jon died suddenly from meningitis aged just 38 – the next day she discovered she was pregnant with the couple’s second child.

Georgia Elms on BBC Breakfast

Georgia joined WAY soon after she was widowed to help her navigate her new life without Jon – and she soon connected with other pregnant women through the charity. The congratulations cards she received from WAY members when her new baby was eventually born meant the world to her.

Fast forward to 2011, and Georgia became Chair of WAY. That was when she first became involved in campaigning.

She takes up the story: “The Friday before I became Chair of WAY at the charity’s March 2011 AGM, I was in the hotel reception and I took a call from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). I had been leaving messages all that week to arrange a meeting about the fact that unmarried widows were not allowed to claim Widowed Parent’s Allowance.

I found out on that call that the DWP were running a consultation on the impending change to bereavement payments that was closing that evening. They didn’t even know about WAY then – the charity that supports people who would be most affected by the changes – and they had not asked us or our members to fill in the consultation!

I managed to persuade them to extend the deadline and they agreed to meet me the following week. This was the start of so many meetings with different officials and different MPs – they kept changing! There were many different setbacks – Brexit, elections and change of leaders! This slowed everything down – each time I had to explain the complicated background and share case studies to get people onside.

Standing up for bereaved families

At each meeting we had, I was told to stop bringing up changing the entitlement of unmarried widows, as that would never be changed. I still brought it up in every meeting, without fail!

Georgia Elms talking about the campaign on BBC

I have always believed the benefit system is a safety net for those who fall on hard times. They are supposed to be scooped up and supported by the Government. The change in April 2017 from Widowed Parent’s Allowance to the less generous Bereavement Support Payment (payable only for 18 months) was cruel and a money saving exercise. I’ve never campaigned before but it’s made me appreciate the welfare state a lot more.

When something really horrendous happens in your life (like being widowed), that’s what the welfare state was set up to do and it should step in to support people. But over the past 12 years, the system has really been letting thousands of bereaved families down.

I thought that a glaring injustice like this could be changed straight away – I’ve had my eyes opened that we had to take the Government to court over this. I have been shocked at the lack of compassion I met along the way. I’ve had conversations with people and they’re just talking about numbers while I know the people behind the numbers. I know their desperate financial situations. 

"It’s been really heart-breaking to know that so many people have had to struggle financially since we first started highlighting this issue in 2011. It really didn’t need to take this long."

There have been so many setbacks over the past 12 years but to know that over 20,000 people will now benefit and WAY has helped with this change is amazing! I just didn’t realise it would take quite so long when I was standing in that hotel reception all those years ago!”

Georgia has been helping to get the word out to the 20,000+ bereaved families who may be eligible for backpayments through media interviews:

She was interviewed on BBC Radio 5 Live here (2 hours 40 minutes into the show)

She was interviewed on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire here

Read the history of the campaign.