Widowed Parent’s Allowance, the safety net that parents get thanks to the National Insurance contributions their husband or wife made before they died, is being replaced by a new Bereavement Support Payment from 6 April 2017. Many bereaved families will be worse off under the new scheme.
- Government shortening support for 91% of parents widowed after April
- 75% of widowed parents will be worse off under the new scheme
- Link with inflation will be broken
- Cohabiting couples still won’t get support for their grieving children
- Charities propose cost-neutral alternative to support bereaved families for longer
Support is being shortened
Instead of getting support until their youngest child leaves school, widowed parents will now get support for just 18 months. For 91% of parents, that will be a shorter time than they could have claimed under the current system.
Alison Penny of the Childhood Bereavement Network said
Latest DWP figures show 75% of bereaved families will be worse off in cash terms under the new scheme, with the average working widowed parent losing out on over £12,000. That’s a huge difference to families struggling to cope after a parent dies.
The government listened to concerns from parents who have already been widowed, and revised its original plan to stop the benefit after just one year. But extending the payments to 18 months doesn’t go far enough.
Alison Penny of the Childhood Bereavement Network said:
We know that children’s grief often takes a while to emerge, and they often face new challenges two or three years down the line. It’s vital that their mum or dad – who are coping with their own grief too – have the flexibility to be available to their children.
Charities have developed cost-neutral proposals that would allow the payments to be spread over three years instead, giving families that bit longer to help their children get back on their feet.
The government plans to move widowed parents with longer term income support needs onto Universal Credit, but that means that after just six months, depending on the age of their youngest child, parents will be having to look for or take up work. This will put them under unnecessary pressure, increasing their stress at a time when they need to prioritise their grieving children.
Alison Penny said:
The Government claims that the current system could act as a trap preventing people from moving on with their lives, but we simply haven’t seen evidence for this. DWP’s own research with parents bereaved 12-18 months earlier found that the majority said the benefits didn’t have a significant impact on them returning to or taking up work. Most bereaved partners stay in or take up work within 18 months of bereavement, and the last thing we should be doing is interfering with that by putting them under pressure to find work or face sanctions.
Support will get less over time
The current Widowed Parent’s Allowance is up-rated each year in line with inflation, but this link is being broken with the new Bereavement Support Payment. Alison Penny said
Over time, Bereavement Support Payment will be worth less to families, while childcare and other costs of bringing up children are likely to rise. Over the last 30 years, funeral costs have risen far higher than inflation. Bereavement Support Payment will stretch less and less far to cover families’ needs after a parent dies.
Children whose parents weren’t married won’t get the support
Parents who lived with but weren’t married to their partner won’t get the new benefit, even if they had lived together for many years and had children together. Alison Penny said
We think around over 2,000 families with children lose out in this way each year. It simply doesn’t seem fair to deprive some children of financial support based on their parents’ marital status. It seems odd to treat cohabiting partners as a couple for means-tested benefits or tax credits when they are both alive, but then to refuse to recognise the significance of their relationship when one of them dies.
Georgia Elms, Chair of WAY Widowed and Young, said
We are really disappointed that the government is forging ahead with significant changes to bereavement support payments from April, against the advice of bereavement organisations like WAY Widowed and Young.
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, their pension.
We are also incredibly disappointed that the government has 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.
While we are pleased to see that widows and widowers without children will now be entitled to bereavement support for up to 18 months, WAY will continue to campaign against the other changes, which will have a significant impact for parents who have the misfortune to be widowed after 6 April 2017.
It’s not all bad news, however: the new Bereavement Support Payment will be tax free and disregarded from calculating other benefits and the benefits cap. The poorest out-of-work families with children will see an increase in the cash value of their awards. However, the majority of the lowest earning widowed parents will be worse off. 75% of all families with children will be worse off (88% of those in work, 57% of those out of work).
For a briefing on this issue, please visit http://www.childhoodbereavementnetwork.org.uk/campaigns/fairer-welfare-benefits.aspx
 Although we can make clear statements about how the changes will affect groups of widowed parents, it is almost impossible to predict the impact on a specific individual family, and to work out whether in theory they would be worse off under the old or new scheme of bereavement benefits.