If your partner died, you would hope for sympathetic treatment from the Powers That Be. The reality is very different. Let’s, just for a moment, look at the financial realities. Eligibility for Bereavement Support Payments has just been slashed from 20 years to 18 months. Oh, and you have to be married to receive them.
Still wondering what the fuss is about? What if I told you that nobody knows how many children are growing up in a household with a widowed parent? Believe it or not, no such data is collected and so the number of families with children that have experienced a bereavement is simply unknown.
In other words, Government policy in this area is built on foundations of sand. In a perverse twist, however, the Government does collect data about the number of children whose parents are divorced.
Added to this horrible mess, the bereaved family is likely to deal with untrained teaching staff and medical professionals who have no idea how to deal with the remaining parent, let alone their children. In short, if your partner or spouse dies, there’s a very good chance you’ll receive little to no support when you need it most.
Making the Lives of Bereaved Families Matter
These are the realities outlined in a new report called Making the Lives of Breaved Families Matter that’s been published by the Life Matters Task Force. The Task Force a coalition of charities* and other interest groups campaigning to ensure bereaved families get the support they need.
It is chaired by Ben Brooks-Dutton, a name that will probably be very familiar to any bloggers reading this. Ben was widowed five years ago when his wife, Desreen, was knocked down by a motorist who had confused the accelerator for the brake and mounted the pavement at 54mph.
Desreen was so seriously injured she died at the scene leaving Ben to raise their son Jackson. If it hadn’t been for the fact Ben pushed Jackson’s pushchair out of the way, he may also have been a casualty.
Personal experiences of bereavement
The report was launched earlier this week at the Palace of Westminster at an event hosted by Carolyn Harris MP, who herself was widowed in her thirties. At the launch, Harris, MP for Swansea East, explained that she was working as a barmaid at the time of her bereavement and financially insecure.
The experience spurred her on to go to university as a mature student. This led to work for various community groups and eventually trod a path to the House of Commons where she has campaigned for the rights of bereaved families.
Also speaking at the launch was Brooks-Dutton. He outlined his own experiences in a thoughtful, candid and emotional address.
Following Desreen’s death, Ben took to the word processor. He launched a blog, https://lifeasawidower.com (a great read, but Ben has moved on and these days can be found at https://manalive.life) and wrote a book It’s Not Raining Daddy, It’s Happy. In his own words: “I wrote my way through it.”
Support for Ben and his family had been minimal. Ben said the various “bereavement services found me” and this only happened because of his heightened profile as a blogger and author. If he hadn’t started writing, he may have received no support at all.
Actions for change
The Life Matters Task Force is calling for six actions in its report:
When registering a death, the number of dependent children reliant on the deceased should be recorded. At present, such information isn’t recorded. This would help provide better services to those who need it and with accurate information being available, Government can create policies that will help support bereaved families.
Bereavement training for educators and carers
Recognising there are poor levels of institutional support for bereaved children, the Task Force wants all teachers and carers of children to receive bereavement training. The idea is to help them recognise and respond to a child’s grief.
Improved bereavement education in schools
The Task Force would like bereavement to form part of the Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) curriculum in England. This would ensure children receive age-appropriate learning on bereavement and grief.
Better cross-Government working
The Task Force would like a Governemnt Minister take responsibility for bereavement. It would also like to see the introduction of a cross-Governemnt bereavement strategy to ensure policies are aligned across Government departments.
Workplace bereavement guidelines
The Task Force recommends that every organisation should have a bereavement policy for staff.
Improved financial support
The Task Force wants the Government to start a new consultation into how bereaved families should be supported financially by the Government. It wants financial support to be made available for longer and to be available to parents who aren’t married.
While I was at the report’s launch, Brooks-Dutton and Harris’s words resonated with me. While it was rather morbid, I found myself wondering how I’d cope if Mrs Adams passed away. I’d be left on my own dealing with two heartbroken young children and I’d be in huge financial trouble.
Conversely, if I passed away, Mrs Adams would suddenly find herself dealing with school staff she rarely sees. She’d be booking dental and doctor’s appointments for the kids, things I can’t recall her ever having to do because as their main carer, I do this stuff.
It would be exceedingly tough and based on what’s written in the report, support would be minimal. We’ve written wills, but hearing Brooks-Dutton and Harris talk about their experiences made me realise there’s so much more to bereavement.
Following the Grenfell Tower fire, Prime Minister Theresa May acknowledged that bereaved families do not always get the support they require. By publishing this report, the Life Matters Task Force hopes to build support for its aims and bring about change that will help bereaved families.
As Brooks-Dutton himself says: “It’s time for family bereavement policy to move beyond just benefits.”
I guess it’s a case of seeing if MPs take the report seriously. I’ll certainly be watching closely as I learned a lot at the report’s launch. Death and bereavement are subjects nobody likes to talk about but if doesn’t get discussed and change doesn’t happen, families, bereaved partners and children will continue to suffer.
*The Life Matters Task Force is made up of: Child Bereavement UK, Childhood Bereavement Network, Grief Encounter, Cruse Bereavement Care, Widowed & Young, Winston’s Wish and supported by comparethemarket.com.