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Bereavement Benefit

Volume 541: debated on Monday 5 March 2012

A public consultation was launched in December 2011, seeking views on options for reforming bereavement benefits to ensure that they provide effective support to those who lose a husband, wife or civil partner. The consultation closes today and we will publish an official response to it in due course. That will summarise the comments received and outline the Government’s plans for reform.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Bereavements clearly cause a period of great stress for the families involved, and I welcome the Government’s review to ensure that we have a suite of payments that are fit for purpose and easy to understand. Will he bear in mind the problem that a number of my constituents have encountered, which they are struggling to understand? Benefits allowances are payable based on either the national insurance contributions of the deceased person or the widow’s or widower’s status, whereas the bereavement payment is based only on the NI status of the deceased person, and in the depth of their grief many people struggle to understand what seems to them to be an anomaly.

My hon. Friend is right to point out that different bereavement benefits, allowances and payments have different contribution rules. One of the issues on which we are consulting is whether they should be aligned in a more accessible way and although the consultation closes today, I shall take my hon. Friend’s question as a submission to it.

Not for the first time, I had a constituent in tears in my surgery last week as she had to pawn all her possessions to pay for her husband’s funeral. When the Minister simplifies the bereavement benefits, will he undertake not to use it as an opportunity to save money, too?

I am pleased to give the hon. Lady that assurance. She will, I am sure, have read the consultation document we produced before Christmas, which confirms that this is about spending the support we give to people who have been bereaved in a better way, not about reducing the spend.