The National Association has added its voice to those of leading bereavement charities Cruse Bereavement Care, Widowed and Young and the Child Bereavement Network, in asking the government to hold off on the introduction of new bereavement payments that will see parents who care for children after the death of a spouse or partner lose up to £30,000 in benefits.
The government’s planned new bereaved support payment will provide a larger lump sum after a death, rising from £2,000 to £3,500, but will see the benefit time-limited to just 18 months, compared with the current maximum of 20 years.
The changes will save the government £100m a year at a time when state support for those unable to afford the cost of a funeral has also fallen to historically low levels and many local councils are introducing double-digit increases to their burial and cremation fees, leading campaigners to wonder if the newly bereaved are viewed as a ready source of income to the public purse.
Mandie Lavin, Chief Executive Officer of the NAFD said: “Funeral directors know at first hand that bereavement can have emotional and financial implications which last years, not months and that the impact on those caring for young children can be particularly acute, especially if the death of one parent affects the ability of the surviving parent to earn enough to support the family.
“The reality is that grieving children will bear the brunt of these cuts, as their surviving parent will have a huge hole in their household finances to fill, rather than focusing on supporting their needs as they mourn the loss of their mum or dad.
“Also worrying is the fact that the link between bereavement benefits and inflation is being broken, something that the government also did to the Social Fund funeral expenses payment thirteen years ago. It remains, today, the same £700 that it was back then and is now wholly inadequate. We would not wish to see the same degradation of the bereavement benefit payment occur.
“We ask the government to rethink the implications of their proposals. The government has already saved more than £5billion on its bereavement benefits bill and so should perhaps look elsewhere for additional savings.”
Says Georgia Elms, Chairman, WAY Widowed and Young: “We are incredibly disappointed and dismayed that the government is still forging ahead with significant changes to bereavement support payments from April, against the advice of bereavement organisations like WAY Widowed and Young and the Childhood Bereavement Network.
“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.
“These changes are deeply unfair and they will leave 75% of bereaved families worse off at a time when they are already incredibly vulnerable.
“We are also extremely 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.”
Adds Alison Penny, Coordinator, Childhood Bereavement Network: “Over 3,200 widowed parents and their supporters have written to their MPs to protest these cuts, on behalf of the next generation of bereaved families who don’t even know yet that they will be affected. Despite their efforts, the Government is pressing ahead with a policy which will leave 75% of widowed parents and their children worse off in cash terms.
“91% of families will be supported for a shorter time, with the maximum pay-out period reducing from 20 years to just 1.5 years.
“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. Bereaved children’s mental health is closely related to their surviving parent’s availability and coping. The new scheme is likely to result in greater out-of-work benefit costs and use of other stretched social care and mental health services, and will undermine parents’ control over decisions about what is best for their family.
“Despite the government’s claim that this is not a cost-saving measure, they stand to save £100m a year once the new scheme is up and running. The sad truth is that it is the next generation of bereaved children who will bear the brunt of these cuts. As 8-year old Sam wrote to his MP, ‘I hope this letter encourages you and the Government to change your minds about WPA and help children who do not know their mums or dads are going to die yet. I was devastated when my daddy died and others will be too.’”