The death of a loved one is upsetting, and family members can struggle both emotionally and financially as a result. My SNP colleague Roger Mullin MP took part in the debate on these regulations on 27th February 2017, in which he highlighted the detrimental impact of the imposition of arbitrary time limits on the receipt of bereavement support for families.
My colleagues Mhairi Black MP, who is on the Work and Pensions Committee, and Patricia Gibson MP will be taking part in the debate on the 2nd of March on the Committee’s report on ‘Support for the bereaved’.
It is welcome that individuals who are out of work, and do not have children will gain from the disregarding of Bereavement Support Payment for the purposes of calculating Universal Credit. However the changes will also mean that the burden of income support for bereaved individuals falls on Universal Credit, for which there is a conditionality requirement. The exemption from work requirements for six months is welcome but does not go far enough – those with particularly distressing circumstances, such as widowed parents, should have a longer exemption from conditionality so they can focus on their children. The UK Government have said that the extension of an exemption can be considered depending on circumstances, but this requires the bereaved individual to apply for an additional one-month exemption every six months – a considerable burden for someone who is already in distressing circumstances.
My colleagues and I are also concerned that the new system will not rise in line with inflation, meaning the support will lose value over time while the cost of funerals, as well as living costs, continues to rise. This is all the more of a burden for widowed parents who may also have expensive childcare costs on top of their emotional and financial distress. The new system has benefits for some but also detrimental impacts for others, depending on circumstances. The UK Government needs to look again at these changes which could bring additional burdens of emotional, financial and work stress on families who are already going through hardship.