Widows’ benefits

I read with disgust this morning an article in the Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/8952062/Lord-Freud-plans-shake-up-of-benefits-for-widows.html) on Lord Freud’s plan to “shake up” benefits given to widows.

This blog post may not be one of my most rational, as for me this issue is very personal.  My father passed away suddenly in March 1996, aged just 46-years-old, and left my mum, then 43-years-old, to raise my brother, 12, and me, 8, by herself.  When we lost my dad, he was the breadwinner in my family.  He had worked previously as an upholsterer, and was currently working at an engineering plant at the time of his unexpected death.

My mum has for many years lambasted the lack of support given to widows, some of whom are incredibly vulnerable.  They did not ask or choose to be in this position; they did not ask for their husbands (or wives) to be taken from them, but such is the cruelty of fate.  My mum was working as a cook in a school kitchen at the time, but thanks to the specific hours this kind of work entails, was able to look after me and my brother and see us to and from school.  But when my dad passed, we did not just lose a loved one.  We did not just lose a parent and husband.  We also lost income, security and stability.

Thankfully, my dad had two pensions, one from a former employer and one from his current employer at the time of his death.  Combined with my mum’s meagre widow’s pension, we were able to get by, and we never wanted for anything during our childhood and adolescent years.

But the fact remains that widows are victims.  And they are ignored.  Whilst some, such as military widows, get a little more attention than others, which is understandable, many struggle on in the background.  My mum is one.  Her widow’s pension has never increased by much in the almost 16 years since my dad died – I have no problem with this, as of course my brother and myself are now in our twenties and work, pay taxes etc.  But this is happening to other widows too – widows with dependent children, children with special needs, and a whole other variety of circumstances that we can’t even comprehend.  It is a silent struggle.  My mum was often too proud to ask for help.  I imagine many others – widows and widowers alike – feel the same.

And the phrase that really turned my stomach concerned the idea that benefits must be changed in order to encourage widows to go back to work sooner.  Has Lord Freud no humanity?  There is no timeline or deadline on grief.  You do not just wake up one morning, say “I’m over it” and get on with life.  It is a daily battle to face the days, but you do it in your own time.  Mourning is a long process, depending on several different factors.  My mum did go back to work eventually, but in doing so exacerbated a previous medical condition, which she has now had since 1997.  I still believe her going back to work so soon after my father’s passing added to her grief and stress.  Does Lord Freud think that widows enjoy sitting at home, trying to make sense of what has happened in their lives?  Does he not think that they’d rather be doing anything other than grieving the loss of their spouse?

At a time when many other services are being cut, I find it abhorrent that this government should now turn its eye to widows’ benefits to see where else we can make some savings.  Thank goodness that me and my brother have now grown up, and my mum can use her pension – and state pension in years to come – for her own individual purposes.  But what if this wasn’t the case?  What if this was happening to my family NOW?  Or next year?  We would be faced with the fact that my mum may lose a portion of a benefit she doesn’t even want to have to take, but must because fate has dealt her the worst hand.  The truth is, if these proposals are followed through, this will happen.

I find myself aghast at how this government can only think in terms of money, yet again.  They really do know the price of everything and the value of nothing.