13/04/2017 12:01 BST | Updated 13/04/2017 12:01 BST

Taking Away Support When Widowed Parents Need It Most

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Last week a clock started ticking for widowed parents and bereaved children when the UK Government introduced some of the most indecent and unnecessary benefits cuts imaginable, cutting the support provided to widowed parents and grieving children at a time when they're likely to need it most.

Until 5th April 2017, a widowed parent with dependent children would receive financial support for up to 20 years - the maximum time that their youngest child could be in education. From now, though, that support has been cut to just eighteen months - the implication being that that's about the time it should take for a widowed (and now obviously single) parent to adjust to their new life and to some extent be 'over it'.

I think you really need to know a bit about how it works before you can be really shocked, but I wager when you do you'll probably find it quite hard to swallow.

Essentially, in the UK, when we work we pay National Insurance. The contributions we make help to build our entitlement to certain state benefits, such as the State Pension and Maternity Allowance. If we die before we retire, clearly we don't see that money.

However, until last week, if your husband or wife died leaving dependent children behind, their contributions became Widowed Parent's Allowance - a weekly benefit for widows, widowers, or surviving civil partners who have a dependent child or are pregnant.

Quite simple really: if you stay alive you get a pension, if you don't your spouse and kids get it instead (at least until you - the adult - gets a new parter or your youngest child leaves education, which can mean support for up to 20 years).

A couple of weeks ago, millions of people tuned into BBC One to watch Rio Ferdinand: Being Mum and Dad - a documentary that showed the real emotional challenges facing widowed parents and their children.

Filmed almost 18 months after the death of Rio's wife, Rebecca, this clearly highlighted just how long it can take for families to even begin to grieve properly. Viewers saw a family not 'over the worst of it' after a year and a half, but only really just able to start to process the sort of support they would need going forward.

This highly emotional insight into the reality of a family bereavement is completely at odds with the recent changes to benefits for widowed parents.

This new legislation implies that people only need support for eighteen months and clearly doesn't take into account the pace at which different people grieve. Not only that, but according to the Government it's supposed to be a 'modernised' system and yet unmarried couples with children won't even be entitled to the new 'benefits'.

While 'support' might be present in name for the newly dubbed Bereavement Support Payments, it is by no means there in nature.

With 112 children becoming newly bereaved every day, a group of us got together and decided that we can't simply stand by and do nothing. The changes to legislation are now in place but we've decided we're going to do what we can to mitigate this and maintain pressure on a government that has not only ignored bereaved families in the debate - but that has also quite simply got it wrong.

I say a clock is ticking for the families impacted because, although the legislation is now in place, it means we have eighteen months to do something about it. That's why I have committed to working alongside a task force of like-minded people and charities, coming together with an ambition to generate ideas and recommendations that can inform the development of a next generation bereavement strategy, focussing on how we as a nation could better support bereaved parents, partners, and children both financially and emotionally.

With the support of, the task force members include:

  • Georgia Elms, Chairman, WAY Widowed & Young
  • Alison Penny, Coordinator, Child Bereavement Network
  • Jeff Brazier, author of The Grief Survival Guide
  • Debbie Kerslake, Chief Executive, Cruse Bereavement Care
  • Dr Shelley Gilbert MBE, Founder, Grief Encounter
  • Fergus Crow, Chief Executive, Winston's Wish

You can click here to find out more about what we're setting out to achieve and why we're having to do this in the first place.