House of Commons approves bereavement benefit cut that will leave 3 out of 4 newly widowed parents worse off

Joint statement from WAY Widowed and Young and Childhood Bereavement Network

  • MPs approve the Bereavement Support Payment Regulations by 292 votes to 236
  • New scheme due to come into force on 6 April 2017
  • 91% newly widowed parents will be supported for a shorter time under new system
  • 75% will be worse off than they would have been under the old system
  • Reforms will undermine parents’ control over decisions about what is best for their grieving children

Yesterday, the House of Commons approved the Bereavement Support Payment Regulations 2017, which will cut support for the next generation of widowed parents. Despite repeated assurances that the reforms are not intended as a cost-saving measure, the Government is pressing ahead with changes that, once up and running, will save £100m a year from support for widowed parents and their grieving children.

Alison Penny, Coordinator of the Childhood Bereavement Network said

The sad truth is that it is the next generation of bereaved children who will bear the brunt of these cuts.

Widowed Parent’s Allowance, the safety net that parents get thanks to the National Insurance contributions their husband or wife made before they died, will be replaced by a new Bereavement Support Payment from 6 April 2017. The Government expects around 8,500 parents to begin a new claim over the next 12 months.

Widowed parents and their supporters have written to their MPs and the Prime Minister over 4,000 times to protest against these cuts, on behalf of the next generation of bereaved families, many of whom don’t even know yet that they will be affected. More than 92% of MPs have been contacted by worried constituents. 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.

Despite these concerns, the Government is pressing ahead with a policy which will leave 75% of widowed parents and their children worse off in cash terms. That equates to over 6,000 families next year. The average working widowed parent will get around £12,000 less than they would under the current scheme, and the average parent out of work will get around £6,500 less.(1)

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, with the maximum payout period being reduced from 20 years to just 1.5 years. Those on low incomes will then be moved onto Universal Credit, with associated requirements to move into work or increase earnings.

Alison Penny said

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.

Although the Government describes the reforms as a modernisation of the system, it has refused repeated calls to extend the benefits to families where the parents lived together but weren’t married. Alison Penny said

We estimate 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, Chairman of WAY Widowed and Young said

We are absolutely devastated that the government is forging ahead with these changes to bereavement support payments, totally disregarding the advice of bereavement organisations like WAY Widowed and Young. The government has claimed that this system will be fairer – but there is nothing fair about taking money away from bereaved families who are already suffering so much.

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, the pension they never got to claim.

Our members and supporters have written more than 4,000 letters to MPs over the last few weeks to protest against these utterly callous cuts. The government simply has not listened. And the most heartbreaking thing is that these changes will affect a group of people who might not even realise they may one day need this vital support – future generations of bereaved families.

The government also claims that these changes have modernised the system. So why have they 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? How is that a system that’s fit for the 21st century?


(1) 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.

For a briefing on this issue, please visit

For more information, please contact:

National Children’s Bureau’s media office on 0207 843 6047 or email . For urgent enquiries out of office hours call 07721 097 033.

WAY Widowed and Young press officer

About the Childhood Bereavement Network

The Childhood Bereavement Network, based at the National Children’s Bureau, is the coordinating hub for services across the UK that offer direct support to children and young people who have been bereaved of a parent or sibling. Our members find creative and therapeutic ways for children and their families to begin to understand what has happened and to live with and beyond their loss. For more information and a directory of ‘open access’ services, visit

About WAY Widowed and Young

WAY Widowed and Young is the only national charity in the UK for men and women aged 50 or under when their partner died. Founded 20 years ago, WAY now has 2,300 members across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The charity provides peer-to-peer support to young widowed men and women – married or not, with or without children – as they adjust to life after the death of their partner.

About the National Children’s Bureau

The National Children’s Bureau (NCB) is a leading charity that for 50 years has been improving the lives of children and young people, especially the most vulnerable. We work with children and for children, to influence government policy, be a strong voice for young people and practitioners, and provide creative solutions on a range of social

About childhoodbereavementnetwork

The hub for those working with bereaved children and their families in the UK
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