UK

Siobhan McLaughlin: Widowed Parent’s Allowance inaction is ‘shameful’

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Media captionSiobhan McLaughin has not received any payment one year on from her Supreme Court win

A mother who won a major court case on bereavement benefits has said it is “shameful” no progress has been made one year on.

Siobhan McLaughlin, from County Antrim, was denied the Widowed Parent’s Allowance because she was not married to the father of her children.

She successfully challenged the decision in the Supreme Court, but has not received any payment.

The government is “actively considering options following the ruling”.

Siobhan McLaughlin’s partner John Adams died in 2014.

They had lived together for 23 years and had four children together.

Image caption John Adams had four children with Siobhan McLaughlin

When she discovered parents who were not married or in a civil partnership were unable to claim the allowance – which is aimed at supporting children – she decided to challenge the criteria in court.

The case went to the highest court in the UK, which ruled in August 2018 that denying the benefit to unmarried parents breached human rights law.

“The Supreme Court decided that the government was discriminating against these children, but nothing has changed,” Ms McLaughlin said.

“You would like to think that somebody would have decided to move quickly on this.”

Working three jobs

It is five years since she began her legal battle.

Her children were 19, 17, 13 and 11 when Mr Adams died from cancer.

“They lost their daddy, but then they also lost out because I had to go out more to work,” she said.

Ms McLaughlin took on three jobs to support her family.

“Had I been able to work one job, then I still would have been there for them coming in from school with the dinner ready for them – but that just went,” she said.

She said she took the legal challenge mainly not for herself, but for the children of other unmarried parents who lose a mother or father.

Bereavement charities said more than 2,000 families a year are in the same situation.

Speaking to BBC Radio Ulster, Georgia Elms, who works for the Widowed and Young charity said marital status made no difference to grieving.

“Families are trying to bring up their children without this financial support which is really needed,” she said.

“These children, just because their parents aren’t married, their grief is no different, their needs are no different.”

Pressure

Ms McLaughlin is pressing for the government to change the eligibility for Widowed Parents’ Allowance, to bring it in line with the judgement.

“How can they not? It really is shameful that they haven’t. We are talking about children who have lost a parent,” she said.

The Department for Work and Pensions has said it is “committed to supporting people during bereavement and have widened the support available”.

A spokesperson added: “This is in addition to help provided for co-habiting couples through the wider welfare system.”

The Supreme Court judgement did not automatically change the law.

But by declaring the current law was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, it put pressure on politicians to act.

Image caption Siobhan McLaughlin’s solicitor Laura Banks may go to the European Court of Human Rights

Other bereaved families from around the UK have contacted Ms McLaughlin’s solicitor, Laura Banks.

“The Supreme Court has said the restriction amounts to unlawful discrimination,” Ms Banks said.

“The government should be treating this as a priority.

“This is pushing families into poverty, sometimes into debt – and that’s unacceptable.”

Ms Banks has not ruled out taking the issue to the European Court of Human Rights in the future.

“We would like to think the government would act on this,” she said.

“But absolutely, if there is no progress we will have to consider other options.”

‘Unintended consequences’

The matter was raised in the Work and Pensions Committee at Westminster last month.

The Minister for Family Support and Child Maintenance, Will Quince, gave evidence to the committee’s inquiry into support for the bereaved.

He told MPs: “Because of the complexity, every time I think I am looking at a potential solution, there are more unintended consequences that then lead to more issues.”

But he added: “I desperately want to find a solution to this as quickly as possible.”

Asked by the Conservative MP Nigel Mills if the options included “do nothing”, Mr Quince replied they did not.

He said: “I am determined to find a resolution, but it has to be the right one.”

Source: bbc.co.uk

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