A young father from Southport has slammed callous Government changes to bereavement benefits, which see the length of time grieving parents can receive financial support drastically reduced, explaining that the idea grief only lasts for 18 months is “ludicrous”.
Ben Brooks-Dutton lost his partner Desreen in 2012 after she was hit by a car and he was left to raise his young son Jackson as a single parent.
Under the now replaced bereavement benefit system, widowed parents could continue to receive regular payments of about £112 a week until a child reaches 18-years-of-age.
Controversial changes, which came into force on 7 April 2017, have seen this replaced with a lump sum payment of £3,500, compared with £2,000 under the old system, followed by 18 monthly payments of £350 – amounting to a cut of about £80 a week when compared to the former system.
Ben described the changes as “the most indecent and unnecessary benefit cuts imaginable”, vowing to campaign against the changes and lobby politicians from all parties to include a promise to scrap the insensitive cuts in their general election manifestos.
Speaking to the Liverpool Echo, Ben said: “The idea grief is finished after 18 months is ludicrous.
“I had no idea about these benefits until this happened, but they really helped give me more time with my son when he needed me most.
“That emotional need is not always immediately – my son was two when his mum died and he didn’t really know she was dead until he was three or four.
“So that was when I cut my hours to spend time making sure he was okay. The money wasn’t a huge payment but it gave me an extra day where I didn’t need to work.”
Theresa May recently came under fire after claiming the new system will be “fair to people who require that help and support”, which is expected to save around £100 million a year.
While the changes only affect new claims, research by the Childhood Bereavement Network found that newly grieving parents could find themselves up to £12,000 a year worse off compared to current claimants.
8,500 people are expected to make a claim next year, with around 6,000 of these are forecast to see a drop in valuable income of anything between £6,000 and £12,000 a year. Unmarried couples will miss out the vital financial support entirely.
Ben added: “Any professional will tell you grief comes and goes – the idea it’s finished after 18 months is ludicrous.
“The government say it’s fairer now on the taxpayer, but this is basically money paid in national insurance contributions by the parent who died. Most people would have paid in longer than their family get the benefit for.
“People forget too that when you are widowed you often become a single parent – so you have to get more childcare, or take time off work.”
Ben says he has now launched a “task force” with the help of charities and comparethemarket.com to campaign against the brutal cuts.
Work and Pensions Committee Chairman Frank Field recently accused the Tory Government of breaking a promise not to cut funding for bereaved parents.
The Labour MP wrote to Tory Ministers earlier this month (April). “This reform started with a promise of no cuts”, he said.
“The government has reneged on that promise and it will now deliver £100m of cuts at the expense of widowed parents and their children.”
Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Debbie Abrahams, said the cuts were a “new low for this Tory government”.
Former Manchester United and England footballer Rio Ferdinand has also criticised the cuts, as Tory minister Richard Harrington defended the changes by claiming the £80 a week cut “will help people readjust to single-parent life”.
Rio was left struggling to care for three children following the death of his wife Rebecca in 2015 to breast cancer.
Speaking ahead of a heartbreaking documentary first aired at the end of March, Rio told Emma Barnett on BBC Radio 5 live: “I don’t understand how the Government can actually say there’s a time scale on it, because there is no time scale on anything to do with bereavement.”
“Every individual is different”, he added.
“One person may take six months. Another person may take 10 years. There isn’t a time when you can say ‘Yeah, I’m over it’.
“Putting a number on it is the wrong thing to do”.
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: “The death of a partner is always difficult and can have a big impact on a household’s finances. This is why we provide Bereavement Benefits, to compensate for a sudden loss of income.
“We’re modernising the support we offer, replacing an outdated system that doesn’t reflect people’s lives today.
“The new payment is simpler, easier to understand, tax-free and doesn’t affect the amount received from other benefits.
“After the 18 months of Bereavement Support Payment, the welfare system will continue to be a safety net for those who need it most, including those bringing up children alone, living on low incomes or struggling to get back into work.”