Police Widows’ Pensions

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:14 am on 15th March 2017.

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Photo of Brandon Lewis Brandon Lewis Minister of State (Home Office) (Policing and the Fire Service) 11:14 am, 15th March 2017

I congratulate Mrs Moon on securing the debate. As she rightly outlined, it is an issue that has been discussed and raised on the Floor of the House by my hon. Friend Richard Graham. He came to see me quite recently and made a passionate case.

I want to make it clear that I have huge sympathy—as we all should—and admiration for those who have faced the loss of a loved one through their work and as a result of their being on police duty. It is unfortunate, and as the hon. Lady rightly outlined, it is a tragic reality—thankfully rare—that some police officers pay the ultimate sacrifice when fighting crime and keeping us safe. They deserve our huge respect and thanks, so it is right that, whenever we have the opportunity to do so in this place, we are able to pay our respects to those officers and the families they leave behind, and to all police officers and staff, who run towards danger—pretty much every day in one form or another, as the hon. Lady said—in the name of public service.

The Government continue to recognise the risks faced by officers as part of their everyday job. As the hon. Lady outlined, that is why the previous Home Secretary changed police pension provisions to allow widows, widowers and surviving civil partners of police officers who die on duty in England and Wales to receive a survivor pension for life; the definition of “on duty” includes when death occurs during a journey to or from work. The changes also include circumstances in which an officer died from injuries resulting from their being targeted as a member of the police, including circumstances in which the relevant police pension authority believes that the death should be considered a result of the execution of duty.

Those changes were brought by the Police Pensions and Police (Injury Benefit) (Amendment) Regulations 2015, which came into force on 18 January last year. Those amendments were backdated to 1 April 2015, which aligned with the timing for changes made to armed forces survivors’ pensions. In keeping with the policy applied to the armed forces’ pensions, any pensions already surrendered before April 2015 were not reinstated as a result of the change; that was the same across both schemes. However, it is important to note that the regulations will continue to allow the police pension authority the discretion to reinstate adult survivor benefits if a remarriage, civil partnership, or cohabitation subsequently ends.

The hon. Lady referenced the fact that the changes would not require new money, as the money is already in the scheme. I may correct her, it would require new money. The scheme is not structured to cover those funds; it is an employee and employer contributory scheme, but anything that tops that up or goes beyond what is already covered by the scheme will be new money funded by the taxpayer, so she is wrong.

The hon. Lady also touched on the difference between this and changes to armed forces widows’ pensions. The Government believe that there is difference, and that there are particular factors that apply to the armed forces. Not only do the families of armed forces personnel have to cope with long and uncertain separations while their spouse or civil partner has deployed on operations directly, the mobile nature of service life often prevents those families from earning their own occupational pension. We recognise that that puts them in a difficult position when trying to provide for their own financial future.

The same combination of risk to life and disruption to family life cannot be said to apply to other public service workforces. The Government do not believe that it would be justifiable to make the same changes for all survivors of police officers. Nevertheless, we believe it is right to recognise the risks faced by police officers every day as part of their job. I believe that, when police officers, and also firefighters, die on duty, their surviving spouses and civil partners should not face a decision between a new relationship and retaining their entitlement to their survivor benefits.

I appreciate the hon. Lady’s reference to other parts of the United Kingdom. However, policing in Scotland, for example, is a devolved matter. Those other Administrations are entitled to make their own decisions, but that does not, in itself, create a precedent that will necessarily be followed in the whole of the United Kingdom.

We have made clear our commitment to ensure that public service pensions are affordable, sustainable and fair. We keep these things under review at all times. As I promised my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester, we will continue to review all these matters. These pension schemes need to be fair and affordable for members, but also fair and affordable for the taxpayer who subsidises them through contributions.

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