I can say only that the Welsh think alike no matter their political party, because that is another thing that I intend to cover in my speech.
When we ask individuals to put their lives on the line, we should expect that exactly the same care and responsibility will be shown towards all their families, should they make the ultimate sacrifice. Why, then, should a widow or widower lose the financial support from their late husband or wife when they decide to remarry or cohabit?
I should like the Minister to explain where the money is going. If the widow or widower is ineligible to receive it, who has it? What of their children? No father or mother wants their children to be impoverished; nor do they want the money that they set aside to protect their children in the event of their death, and to prepare for their future, to go somewhere else. So what are the Government doing with the money? Why are the widows, widowers and children penalised? Campaigners rightly argue that no Government should seek to profit from the withdrawal of a small and immaterial number of police widows’ pensions, and the condemning, in the process, of 22,000 widows to a life of loneliness and isolation. That is what is happening at the moment.
We are not asking for extra money. The Treasury is not being asked to find new money. The families just want what they are entitled to. I shall set out the figures. The police officers pay 11% of their wages into the pensions. Generally speaking, the widows or widowers receive 50% of the pension. In 2012 there were 22,000 widows in receipt of a police pension. Between 2008 and 2012 in England and Wales, there were a mere 131 cessations because of remarriage or cohabitation. That is a large number of people who are being forced to face a life of isolation and loneliness to maintain their financial security.
On the figures, approximately 0.5% of police widows are being unfairly denied financial support that would have been available to them from the pensions. It is hard to put an exact figure on how much individuals are losing, because that is personal and depends on the husband’s or wife’s age at death. My constituent estimates that she has lost about £135,000—a not inconsiderable sum. The numbers are small: to grant all police widows a pension for life, regardless of their status, would, according to the response to a freedom of information request, cost £50 million. As I have said, that is not new money; it is money already in the system.
I want to tell the Minister about a couple, aged 75 and 80, whom I will not name as they want to remain anonymous. One is the widow of a police officer. They are forced to live 100 miles apart because the loss of the widow’s income should they cohabit would be impossible to bear. That means that they are not there to support each other every day through the inevitable illness that old age brings. They want to spend their twilight years together without financial penalty. Why are they denied that right?
“We will reform the scheme to ensure that the widows, widowers and civil partners of police officers who have died on duty do not have to choose between solitude and financial security.—[Official Report,
Vol. 600, c. 18.]
However, that is happening. The average age of a police widow is 74. The petty injustice that I am describing could cost the taxpayer more: as the group gets older without the income from their deceased spouses’ pensions they are more likely to have recourse to the state. Does the Minister think that a sensible use of public money?
This injustice forces widows and widowers to choose between love and money. Many feel that the financial cost is too great, particularly when their children are affected. If they choose personal happiness, they face financial insecurity through no fault of their own. They will also be asking their new partner to take on full financial responsibility for their children, who will lose the money that their father or mother had put aside for them. I cannot understand that.
Just over two years ago, Richard Graham raised this issue, and he and I debated it in this Chamber. We are no further forward now; the situation has been made more baffling. I am particularly pleased to see hon. Members here from Northern Ireland and Scotland.