A young widowed father opening up about living with loss
When my wife, our son and I left our little London flat on 10th November 2012 it seemed like a normal day much like any other. We had plans to see friends, make some Christmas decorations and catch up before the craziness of the festive season kicked in. Under normal circumstances I probably wouldn’t even be able to tell you exactly what we did or where we were that Saturday.
But some days are life-changing. One minute you’re blissfully unaware of quite how happy you are with your lot, then the next that happiness has all crumbled away around you.
That’s what happened to me that day. I didn’t even know how perfect my life was until it wasn’t anymore. Within an hour my family had gone from three to two; within just sixty minutes my wife had gone from alive to dead. It’s shocking what can happen within such a short space of time.
Today will probably feel as unremarkable to most people as that day did to me when it first began. But something is happening today that will, tragically, rock the foundations of future widowed parents and bereaved children. And the saddest thing is they probably don’t even know it yet.
From today, the UK Government is introducing 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.
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 repulsive.
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 yesterday, 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).
From today, though, that support will only last for 18 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’.
Here’s a short animation that explains things.
Last week, 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 18 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.
From today, I’ll be 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 comparethemarket.com, the task force members include:
Here’s a film that explains a little bit more about what we’re setting out to achieve and why we’re having to do this in the first place. You can also click here to find out more about the changes to bereavement benefits and the new task force.
Together we can all do more to apply pressure on the Government. Please share this blog post and the videos to try to make a difference.