Bereaved families are set to miss out on much needed financial support
Not many benefits have survived the critical eye of the Tory government. From the ‘bedroom’ tax, to changes to jobseeker’s support, successive governments have looked to balance the public purse by cutting down what has to be paid out in support.
Now, perhaps most callously of all, they’ve made wide-ranging changes to payments made to families where a parent has died. The changes, which came in from April 6th, will see families paid a lump sum of £3,500, with a further £350 paid each month for 18 months.
Under the previous scheme, parents received a lump sum of £2,000, but would receive additional payments amounting to approximately £112 a week while they had children in full time education. Understandably, parents groups – and even peers in the House of Lords – are dismayed at the amendments, which stand to hit bereaved parents and families at a time when they are in need of support most.
“This change will have a devastating impact on families affected by the death of a partner,” says Shared Vision’s Rachel Maloney. “Eighteen months is no time at all in terms of grief recovery for children who have lost a parent, or for their surviving parent.”
Rachel’s husband died suddenly 11 years ago. At the time she was 36, with children aged 10 and 14. “I went back to work as a social worker in an operational managerial role six weeks after his death,” she says. “This was not a choice; it was a financial necessity.
“My role involved working with high risk children and families who were in crisis. I couldn’t ‘freefall’ into grieving, I needed to survive, function, and be emotionally available for my children. Their world had been devastated they needed a never ending supply of me.”
Return to work
Yet, even after returning to work, the payments provided a lifeline to Rachel and her family.
“I returned to work with an agreement of reduced paid hours to fit in with school drop off and pick up times, so the widowed parents allowance gave me vital financial breathing space.
“Even then, my grieving remained on hold; there was simply no residual emotional energy for this. My children and my responsible job were my priorities and I relied heavily on the widow’s allowance.”
This reliance was pulled into sharp focus when a particularly challenging case meant she was late to pick up her youngest child. “I had one last call of the day,” recalls Rachel. “It was a mother in crisis. I talked to her for a while and asked a work colleague to call for an ambulance for her. I also wrote on a separate post it note that someone needed to call my child’s school to tell them I was going to be late.
“When I went to pick my child up he was distraught. He thought I had also died and that’s why I hadn’t been there.”
“In that moment I knew I needed to adjust my work position and I needed an alternative solution. The widowed parents allowance enabled me to work flexibly throughout my children’s lives. There were so many occasions over the years where their grief needed my time and emotional energy, let alone our adjustment to being a one parent one income family.”
One of Rachel’s biggest concerns about the new bereavement system is that 18 months of payments does little to support children over a period of time. “It is a tiny drop of time,” she says. “Children’s recovery does not follow nice tidy timelines and grief leaks out at the most in opportune moments. When it does the surviving parent just needs to be there.”