Life as a Widower

A young widowed father opening up about living with loss

apply pressure

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, 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

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.

23 comments on “apply pressure

  1. encounters
    April 6, 2017

    I hope government will reconsider if it is true to its own promises. My heart reaches to you all for rising above your grief and challenge this injustice.

  2. Jules
    April 6, 2017

    Other than sharing on twitter and Facebook, let me know if I can help? I’m a recent widow. If we pay in to the system then we should be able to get help back when needed, without restrictions.

  3. Nicola Campbell
    April 6, 2017

    Well done. So good to see this task force. Let us turn this shocking cut around.

  4. Lesley Matthewson
    April 6, 2017

    Although this didn’t affect me as my children were all adults when my husband died 3 years ago, I find it so ignorant of our government to believe that 18 months is long enough. We all have to learn to live our life as the new ‘normal’. Most people go from two wages immediately down to one and have enough problems sorting finances out without being stabbed in the back. Almost as if they are saying, that’s it, get on with your life now, all fine now.

  5. MeMyselfI
    April 6, 2017

    Unbelievable. And I’m shocked that it only applies to married couples. The documentary on Rio Ferdinand made a huge impression on me and he is someone that could afford support. This will impact on families when they are at their most vulnerable and need every bit of help they can get. Keep up the good work. I’m sure you will have a lot of support. I’ve written to my MP and hope that others do the same too. It could so easily happen to any of us.

  6. Nicola Dent
    April 6, 2017

    Beautifully written. At 7 years I am still not over it xx

  7. Jurgita Khan
    April 6, 2017

    I lost my huband 2 years ago, i have 3 small children to suport. I can’t imagine how would it be without this extra help, i really feel for new families. Its hard enough to go through the loss of the love one, and to have extra worry its unbearable. Government needs to sort out there actions and change this new policies and better sooner then later.

  8. Dorothy Dwyer
    April 6, 2017

    Out of order and outrageous, considering how government can ‘ill-use’ and waste money. People need support at this time, not another blow.

  9. Philippa
    April 6, 2017

    I’m pretty scared. My husband was told on Tuesday that his cancer is spreading rapidly and he doesn’t have long. I’ve had to stop working as a midwife, I don’t get sick pay or compassionate leave. Thankfully my company has offered three months paid leave, which I am taking now.we have seven children, massive debt and no life insurance. It is heartbreaking enough thinking about living life without my darling husband, but the worry of money is breaking me

    • Lotus
      May 4, 2017

      Which way do you prefer, medical treatment or alternative treatment Philippa?

  10. Audrey
    April 6, 2017

    Outrageous. I did qualify for WPA for 1 year only up until the time my son left full time education. I needed that money. It’s hard enough to deal with widowhood and the added responsibility it brings. Removing this lifeline is criminal. You’re all doing amazing work. Keep up the campaign.

  11. Rosie
    April 6, 2017

    I cannot believe any government can think this is right. 11 years ago I lost my husband, he was 48 and although suffered poor health, worked all his adult life up until the day he died. He never had benefits of any kind and paid NI contributions for 30 years. I worked part time around our children. The lump sum helped towards a very basic funeral and I received widowed parents allowance for approximately 5 years. I qualified for the full amount, but paid back half of it through my tax code as I was able to return to work full time, albeit in a low paid Admin job. It really helped me make the transition to one salary and it was just a case of getting back a small amount of what he had put in so that we didn’t need to ask for help. Until you need it, you don’t know this benefit is there – but if you do need it, it is a lifeline and one you have earned, by paying in to. It’s easy pickings for the government off the hard working middle guys when they need it the most. I myself have paid in 37 years of NI so far, never had any benefits and my children are now working hard paying their NI too. Why not just put 100% VAT on funerals and be done with it, clobber everyone, so no-one can afford to die.

    • Paul Lazorko
      April 6, 2017

      Absolutely, we don’t know about the benefit until after we need it. Nobody wants to think of these horrible possibilities. But more people (in the US) should know before they become easy pickings for politicians. We all paid in for this; taking it away amounts to stealing from us.

  12. kerrymckim
    April 6, 2017

    I am American so our system is very different so I don’t know enough to comment about the policy but I am glad to see widowers and widows uniting and advocating.

  13. Kim Chapman
    April 6, 2017

    In response to this petition I hope the government reconsider.

  14. Jay
    April 6, 2017

    I am sure everybody in this situation would rather they didn’t have to claim this benefit, in that they weren’t bereaved.

    Who decides how long it takes a family to ‘get over’ a death?

  15. Paul Lazorko
    April 6, 2017

    The US has similar a Social Security Survivors’ Benefit provided until a child becomes 18. Given that so many modern families rely on two incomes these days, the additional funds from a meager retirement income that will never be paid can help those left behind survive.

    With some life insurance, knowing the benefit was there eased worries for my own family when I was younger. I never imagined my wife might pass first (no life coverage) and that our family might actually need this help. The benefit has made our day-to-day living independent of pressing financial concerns.

    Given that any such funds would otherwise be paid after retirement for the duration of a worker’s life, disbursement to surviving children up to their maturity seems, still, a financial boon to the system. Denying that seems cruel. My own family would have started our own new journey wrestling with poverty in addition to our loss. With my own savings and this help, I was able to take a few months off work to be on hand for my kids, rebuild their home-life; it ensures they continue to get the things they need.

    I paid into my own system with this benefit explicit, and would be furious to have the rules changed midstream – people need to stand up! The whole point of our respective programs is to prevent workers or their families from falling into financial despair due to advanced age, infirmity, or death, isn’t it?

  16. Lisa
    April 6, 2017

    Is there not a petition?

  17. Lorraine O'Neill
    April 7, 2017

    My dad died from leukaemia when I was 11. This payment was essential to our family, supporting us until I left education. You cannot put a timeline on grief. Families need a safety net when they are at their most vulnerable. Let’s hope that the government actually listens and retains this vital lifeline for bereaved families!

  18. Michelle hunter
    April 7, 2017

    My dad died just as my youngest brother was about to do his G.C.S.E.s this extra benefit really helped my mum.

  19. Mark
    April 7, 2017

    Never has there been a time that we as a country should feel so ashamed of our government. The people running the country have no understanding of the lives that ordinary people lead and the struggles that people suffer every day. To loose someone close if horrific, to be financially punished as well is disgraceful.

  20. Tom Hendrie
    April 7, 2017

    I am terminally ill with a 2yr old son so this change will have a huge negative impact on my family.

    I wrote to my MP and met with him today and he promised to raise it with the ministers. I would encourage everyone to contact their Local MP if they do not agree with these changes.

  21. Rachel Adeleke
    May 8, 2017

    My dad died when I was 14 and my brothers were 11 and 8. I can say from personal experience that it took far more than 18 months for any of us to be even slightly over it. Of course it takes a lifetime and you never truly recover but from a practical point of view my mum couldn’t go back to work full time as she was a hospital doctor doing nights on call which is incompatible with being a lone parent with no one in the house over night (when I was older she left me at home with my brothers) or cover the loss of my dad’s salary because he earned so much more (he was a doctor too.) This policy change shows a total lack of understanding on the part of the government, widowed parents need support until their children are no longer dependant on them. Please tell me if I can be of any help with your campaign, I would like my voice to be heard in support

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