Theresa May has defended harsh Tory cuts to bereavement benefits, expected to affect thousands of grieving families over the next year, cruelly claiming the new system will be “fair to people who require that help and support”.
Under the current system, parents can continue to receive bereavement benefits until a child reaches 18-years-of-age – the new system will be far less generous.
A government shake-up will see bereavement benefits for newly widowed parents replaced with a larger lump sum payment of £3,500, compared with £2,000 under the current system, followed by 18 smaller monthly payments of £350 – an £80 a week cut. As stated above, grieving parents will receive the new monthly payment for a much shorter time, when compared to the current system.
Research by the Childhood Bereavement Network found the government will save around £100 million a year from the changes, but analysis also found that families could find themselves up to £12,000 a year worse off, compared to current claimants.
Around 8,500 families and individuals are expected to make a claim next year, with around 6,000 of these predicted to see a loss in income. The changes come into force later this week (7 April).
Parents left to care for children following the death of their spouse are set to miss out on anything between £6,000 and £12,000 a year. And if couples are not married they’ll lose out entirely.
Theresa May has defended the changes, saying: “The aim is that it will be a different sort of payment to the ones that have been there in the past.
“We have to ensure we have a system that is fair to people who require that help and support, but also that is generally fair to taxpayers.”
Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Debbie Abrahams, urged the PM to “scrap these callous reforms”.
While Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said that April will be the “cruellest month for some of the poorest in our society”.
He added: “For those with more than two children, for young people trying to rent, for bereaved parents, the truth is that Theresa May’s talk about helping the ‘just about managing’ classes rings hollow.”
Alison Penny, Coordinator of the Childhood Bereavement Network said: “The result of this policy will be that widowed parents will have to go back to work or increase their hours before their grieving children are ready.
“Most parents do an amazing job of getting back to work and building a new life around their children’s needs. The last thing we should be doing is interfering with that by putting them under pressure to find work or face sanctions.”
Georgia Elms, Chairman of WAY (Widowed and Young) added: “We are absolutely devastated that the government is forging ahead with these changes to bereavement support payments, totally disregarding the advice of bereavement organisations like WAY Widowed and Young.
“The government has claimed that this system will be fairer – but there is nothing fair about taking money away from bereaved families who are already suffering so much.
“Many newly widowed parents stand to lose thousands of pounds under the new system, which will see bereavement payments for new claimants stop after 18 months rather than continuing for up to 20 years.
“These payments are made based on your late spouse’s National Insurance contributions – it is, in effect, the pension they never got to claim.
“Our members and supporters have written more than 4,000 letters to MPs over the last few weeks to protest against these utterly callous cuts. The government simply has not listened.
“And the most heartbreaking thing is that these changes will affect a group of people who might not even realise they may one day need this vital support – future generations of bereaved families.
“The government also claims that these changes have modernised the system. So why have they failed to recognise that bereavement payments should also be extended to widowed parents who weren’t married or in a civil partnership when their partner died?
“How is that a system that’s fit for the 21st century?”
Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, Frank Field, accused ministers of breaking a promise. He said: “This reform started with a promise of no cuts.
“The Government has reneged on that promise and the reform will now deliver £100 million of cuts at the expense of widowed parents and their children.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Work and Pensions said: “We’re updating an old system that was based on the outdated assumption that a widowed parent relied on their spouse for income, and would never work themselves. This doesn’t reflect people’s lives today.
“The 18 month Bereavement Support Payment helps with the immediate costs when someone loses their spouse or civil partner and the support can help protect families from sudden financial difficulties.”
They added: “Once the payments come to an end, there are means-tested benefits which can continue to support the bereaved, especially those who are bringing up children.
“The new payment is easier to claim, won’t be taxed and doesn’t affect the amount received from other benefits, helping those on the lowest incomes the most.”