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Widows' Maternity Benefits

Volume 387: debated on Tuesday 8 November 1977

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2.43 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether a woman widowed during pregnancy is entitled to both maternity grant and maternity allowance if she would have qualified for both of these had her husband lived.

My Lords, a woman confined of a posthumous child of her husband is entitled to a lump sum maternity grant if the contribution conditions are satisfied by either her own or her late husband's contributions. The husband's death would not prevent the mother from qualifying for a maternity allowance, which can be paid only on her own contribution record; the allowance cannot be paid in addition to any widow's benefit to which she was entitled, although she could still receive any earnings-related supplement for which she qualified with her maternity allowance.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that that reply, for which I thank him, will nevertheless cause considerable concern, because it implies that a woman who has lost the support of her husband's earnings will receive less benefit than a woman who continues to enjoy them? Would not the noble Lord agree that the widow's benefits replace in part the husband's earnings and derive from his contributions, while the maternity allowance replaces in part the wife's earnings and derives from her contributions? Would he not further agree that, in the circumstances, the one should not be offset against the other?

My Lords, I cannot think of an instance where it is possible to bring up a benefit to what one might regard as average earnings. So far as the widow is concerned, the widow's allowance, which is given for the first 26 weeks—known as a resettlement benefit—is, I admit, considerably higher than the widowed mother's allowance; but this is to enable her to readjust to what is a very difficult situation following the death of her husband. However, for the first 26 weeks she receives £24.50, together with £8.40 per week for the child and, for that matter, for any other children she may have.