The Childhood Bereavement Network issued the following statement in response to the Work and Pensions Committee report: 'Support for the bereaved':
Alison Penny, Coordinator of the Childhood Bereavement Network, said:
"The Government has committed to review the period the new Bereavement Support Payment will be paid for, but refused to extend support to children of cohabiting couples and to resolve complexities for the lowest-paid widowed parents on the old benefits.
"Problems with these reforms could have been swept away by the stroke of a pen on the statute book, but instead thousands of bereaved families will face ongoing confusion, stress and lack of support when they and their children need it most."
"We are dismayed that the Government has resisted cross-party recommendations to support bereaved children of cohabiting couples after their mum or dad dies. In doing so, the Government has ignored the campaigns of widowed parents and numerous support organisations, recommendations from the Work and Pensions Select Committee and a recent ruling in the Belfast High Court.
"Making these families eligible for bereavement benefits could have helped over 2,000 widowed parents and their children each year to get back on their feet. Instead, these families will face the double hit of one parent dying, and then not being eligible for the benefits because they weren't married. In life, parents have the same responsibilities to their children whether they are married or cohabiting - why should it be different in death? Children have the same needs for food, shelter, love and attention, regardless of their parents' marital status - it's unjust to discriminate against them on these grounds.
"The Government maintains that to prove cohabitation would be a 'lengthy complex process' but, like the Select Committee, we disagree: this is already done for other benefits."
Extension of duration of payments
"The Government has listened to cross-party concerns about ending payments on the first anniversary of the death, and committed to reviewing the period over which the new Bereavement Support Payment will be paid. Currently, families are supported until the youngest child leaves full time education, giving parents the breathing space they need to rebuild their lives and cope with the challenges of bringing up grieving children on their own. However, from April 2017 this support will be cut to just one year, meaning 96% of families will be supported for a shorter time than they would be under current arrangements.
"We urge the Government to consider extending this support for at least three years. Children's grief continues to emerge over this time, and their surviving parent needs this support to help them to adjust to a new life without their mum or dad. We have provided calculations to show that this could be done at no added cost to the tax-payer."
Interaction with Universal Credit
"We are baffled by the Government's refusal to iron out an anomaly in benefits for widowed parents which will see around 6,000 low earning families worse-off by up to £12 a week if they claim both Widowed Parent's Allowance and Universal Credit.
"Amid reforms whose very purpose is to simplify benefits for newly bereaved families, the Government has ignored the plight of those whose partner died some time agoand who will be moved onto Universal Credit. Every time their working hours go up or down, widowed parents will have to work out whether they will be better or worse off if they claim these benefits together. The value of the Government's vaunted transitional protection will run off over time and as soon as families' circumstances change, exposing more of them to this complexity. Work Coaches will be faced with complicated calculations and will have to give some families the perverse - but correct - advice that they would be better off not claiming their Widowed Parent's Allowance.
"We urge the Government to reconsider their plans and meet their own policy aims of simplifying benefits for bereaved families."