“Bereavement Benefits for the 21st Century”
Work and Pensions
Steve Webb (Minister of State (Pensions), Work and Pensions; Thornbury and Yate, Liberal Democrat)
Today my noble friend Lord Freud, the Minister for Welfare Reform, is publishing a Command Paper, Government response to the public consultation “Bereavement Benefits for the 21st Century”. This sets out the Government’s strategy for providing effective support after the loss of a spouse or civil partner, and includes a summary of the responses to the public consultation on how to achieve this.
Our strategy reaffirms the Government’s commitment to providing financial support after spousal bereavement as an important part of the state safety net. Our primary aim is to improve an out-of-date system, targeting additional resources on bereavement benefits over a Parliament, to ensure that existing recipients are protected, and that those who claim the new benefit get the help that they need when they need it most.
We are shifting the focus of bereavement benefits, to provide a short-term intervention, helping people deal with the more immediate costs caused by the death of a spouse or civil partner, and to provide some breathing space to start to come to terms with the emotional and practical upheaval caused by this loss.
It will be paid as a lump sum with monthly instalments to avoid the risks associated with making a large lump sum payment. This period is not intended to reflect the time required for “recovery”, but instead to provide a buffer for the immediate financial impact of bereavement. Payments will be disregarded from universal credit and the benefit cap for a period of 12 months.
This refocusing will improve the targeting of bereavement benefits, providing greater support in the period that social research tells us is particularly challenging financially. The strategy also involves ongoing support being provided through other parts of the welfare system, such as universal credit, and contributory jobseeker’s allowance and employment and support allowance, depending on circumstances.
Recipients of the bereavement support payment, who also receive universal credit, or contributory JSA or ESA, will be able to access Jobcentre Plus support on a voluntary basis from three months after bereavement. They will not be subject to conditionality for a further three months. This means that those who need to start work, or change their working patterns after bereavement, receive the support they need to do so.
The Government acknowledge the value of simplifying the rules that govern conditionality easements for bereaved people across the benefit system, so that they are consistent, supportive and easy to understand. These exemptions
from conditionality will therefore also apply after the death of a child or partner, where there is no entitlement to bereavement benefits.
Contribution conditions will be simplified and people will be entitled to receive the full payment as long as their late spouse or civil partner paid national insurance contributions at 25 times the lower earnings limit for any one year prior to their death.
This builds on changes to bereavement benefits in 2001, and on recent fundamental reforms to the welfare landscape. In the same way that universal credit has been designed to create a simpler system of support, the proposed simplification of bereavement benefits will make it easier for people to understand their entitlement, and to be able to plan accordingly.
In order to effect these changes, after legislation has been introduced, existing bereavement benefits will be replaced with the new bereavement support payment. This will not impact those already in receipt of bereavement benefits at that time or payments made under the war pensions scheme or armed forces compensation scheme.