The bereaved parents losing up to £100,000 in benefits

Some 3,500 people with children have qualified for the new bereavement support payment after the death of their partner, new figures show.

Under the system, some are losing as much as £100,000 over time compared to its predecessor.

Children who have lost a parent may not get the emotional support they need because of changes to the bereavement benefits their families receive, a bereavement task force has said.

We meet two mothers worried about what will happen when their benefits run out.

“When we knew Irfon was terminally ill, we didn’t talk about what it would be like at the end,” Becky Williams tells the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme.

She lives with her two young boys in Bangor. Her husband, Irfon – a children’s mental health nurse, like her – died in May 2017 after years of battling cancer.

“We lived with a lot of stress, knowing that he was terminally ill and that one day he wasn’t going to recover,” she adds.

“You feel like it’s happening to someone else, not you. And just seeing the children was really difficult,” she says, breaking into tears.

Knowing Irfon was going to die meant that Becky had to contemplate life without him by her side.

But one thing that did give her peace of mind, she says, was knowing that she would be supported in bringing up her children by bereavement benefits.

She expected to receive a widowed parent’s allowance – which consisted of £2,000 up front, plus a payment of up to £470 each month for up to 20 years, based on National Insurance contributions.

But last year this was replaced by the bereavement support payment. This meant Becky was given £3,500 up front, but that her monthly payments of £350 would stop after 18 months.

The new system applies only to those who have lost a husband, wife or civil partner.

The government said the old system acted like a trap that prevented bereaved parents adjusting to single life, but it is an idea Becky rejects.

She says in six months’ time, when the support payments stop, her family will still be grieving, but the strain on her finances will mean she won’t be able to give her children the time and support she feels they need.

Vicky Anning, from charity Widowed and Young (Way), says she knows of bereaved parents who – without the financial “cushion” the old benefits system would have provided – will have to do two or three jobs, “when a child should be spending quality time with their remaining parent”.

She adds: “The government always said the changes to the system were not a cost-cutting exercise, but it’s hard to see that it was anything but that.”

The charity is part of the Life Matters task force, a group of charities and experts which were angered by last year’s changes to the bereavement system and have been working together to help those affected.

It claims the new system has made an “already distressing situation even worse”, with many families said to be “incredibly distraught” about their finances.

The Department for Work and Pensions said the new bereavement support payment “restores fairness to the system and focuses support during the 18-month period after a loved-one dies, when someone may need it most”.

“It is also easier to claim, tax-free and does not affect entitlement to other benefits, helping those on the lowest incomes the most.”

Conservative MP Philip Dunne told the Victoria Derbyshire programme it was also a way to encourage the parent to “continue in work wherever possible”.

He doubted that there was “widespread concern”, saying none of his constituents in Ludlow had contacted him.

‘Kind of laughable’

Some 3,500 people with dependent children have qualified for the new bereavement support payment between April 2017 and January 2018, a Freedom of Information request by the programme has found.

One of those is Chloe Leaper, whose partner, Matt, died from bone cancer, aged 39, in May last year.

She lives with her 19-month-old daughter, Thea.

Even while still receiving the benefits, she has been unable to afford to stay in the family home, and has moved into a room in Matt’s parents’ house.

“The impact is kind of unfathomable,” she says, “I don’t think my brain lets me think about it.

“I have lost our life together as we had it. All I have is the pictures on the wall.

“I have gone from being a wife to a wonderful husband to being a mother and living with my in-laws.”

She describes the new benefits system as “kind of laughable”.

“I was so pleased Matt didn’t know [they wouldn’t receive the widowed parent’s allowance] because he had always paid his National Insurance – and he thought that was what we would be on until she was 18.

“It’s not about me, it’s about supporting Thea.”

‘Arbitrary time’

Chloe describes the new system as a “very cynical government decision”, saying it affects “the people who can do the least about it – because we have just lost our partners”.

She adds: “We are trying to rebuild our lives, and I don’t know how Thea is going to react when she realises she has no father. And that will affect her at different points in her life – and how much time I will need to take off work to deal with that.”

She adds, sarcastically: “It’s great to know that in 18 months I will be over my grieving and be able to go back to work full-time.

“It’s such a random, arbitrary time. It sounds long enough for people to go, ‘Oh yes, that’s long enough’.

“But when you are actually in the situation, it’s not.”

Watch the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme on weekdays between 09:00 and 11:00 on BBC Two and the BBC News Channel.

Corbyn sorry for ‘pain’ over Labour anti-Semitism

Jeremy Corbyn has said he is “sincerely sorry” for the pain caused by “pockets of anti-Semitism” in the Labour party.

In a statement, the Labour leader said he would be meeting representatives of the Jewish community this week to “rebuild” confidence in his party.

He said Labour was “anti-racist” and he “utterly condemns” anti-Semitism.

The comments came after Mr Corbyn was criticised for sending an apparently supportive message to the creator of an allegedly anti-Semitic mural in 2012.

In a message sent via Facebook, he had appeared to question a decision to remove the artist’s controversial mural. He later called the mural “deeply disturbing” and backed its removal.

Mr Corbyn said: “I sincerely regret that I did not look more closely at the image I was commenting on, the contents of which are deeply disturbing and anti-Semitic.

“I am opposed to the production of anti-Semitic material of any kind, and the defence of free speech cannot be used as a justification for the promotion of anti-Semitism in any form.”

Mear One – whose real name is Kalen Ockerman – has denied being anti-Semitic, saying the mural was about “class and privilege”.

On Sunday, senior Labour figures joined in condemnation of the mural but defended Mr Corbyn.

Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald told Sky News that Mr Corbyn “hasn’t got an anti-Semitic bone in his body” and that the row had “misinterpreted the intentions of a really good and decent man”.

And Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer said the mural was “grotesque and disgusting” but that Mr Corbyn had given his explanation for his online comment.

Deputy Labour leader Mr Watson told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “I am very, very sorry that people feel hurt by this and that is why I think it is right that Jeremy has expressed regret for it.”

On Friday, Labour MP Angela Smith joined other members in supporting Ms Berger and sent a statement to the Leader’s Office, calling for Mr Corbyn to appear before MPs to explain himself.

Yvette Cooper tweeted that she was “really troubled by the mural” and that “Labour must be better than this”.

George Alagiah: Better screening ‘may have caught cancer’

BBC news presenter George Alagiah says his bowel cancer could have been caught earlier if the screening programme in England was the same as in Scotland.

The 62-year-old was first treated in April 2014 and returned to screen after 18 months, but he confirmed the stage four cancer had come back in 2017.

Screening is automatically offered from the age of 50 in Scotland, but only from 60 in England.

Over 40,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer in the UK every year.

Chances of survival for at least five years with stage four bowel cancer are less than 10%, while for stage one it is nearly 100%.

In an interview with the Sunday Times, Alagiah, who lives in London, said the system in Scotland saw screening take place every two years.

“Had I been screened, I could have been picked up,” he said.

“Had they had screening at 50, like they do in Scotland… I would have been screened at least three times and possibly four by the time I was 58 and this would have been caught at the stage of a little polyp: snip, snip.”

The presenter is now supporting a campaign by Bowel Cancer UK and Beating Bowel Cancer to make cancer screening available to everyone in England from the age of 50.

“We know that if you catch bowel cancer early, survival rates are tremendous,” he said.

“I have thought, why have the Scots got it and we don’t?”

What are the symptoms of bowel cancer?

  • Bleeding from the bottom
  • A change in your bowel habits lasting more than three weeks
  • Abdominal pain, especially if severe
  • A lump in your tummy
  • Weight loss and tiredness

    SOURCE: Beating Bowel Cancer

    Alagiah found out he had bowel cancer in 2014 after complaining of blood in his stools.

    He then underwent 17 rounds of chemotherapy and five operations to treat the disease in 2014, which had spread to his liver and lymph nodes.

‘I hope this won’t be news in 10 years’

As the Foreign Office appoints its first black female career diplomat as British high commissioner, NneNne Iwuji-Eme shares her secrets for success in diplomacy – from stocking up on Shreddies to forming your very own “master alliance”.

Ms Iwuji-Eme will travel to Mozambique as British high commissioner in July.

High commissioners lead the diplomatic missions in Commonwealth countries – like an ambassador’s role in non-Commonwealth countries.

Accompanied by her nine-year-old son, it will be the British Nigerian’s first time in the African country that is set to become her home.

“It’s a country that’s always fascinated me. It’s a really exciting time to be going out there,” the civil servant told the BBC.

“Nobody really wakes up in the morning and thinks I’m going to be the first black woman to do this. I just wanted to go as far as I could in this job,” said Ms Iwuji-Eme, who speaks five languages including English, Igbo, Portuguese, Pidgin and French.

“This extra element is an incredible honour and privilege, but I’m hoping that in being the first it inspires others to pursue their dreams and that in 10 years from now, it’s not going to be making news.”

In her 16 years at the Foreign Office, Ms Iwuji-Eme’s roles have included being an economic adviser for Africa, an economist for Defra and, most recently, she was posted to Brazil as head of prosperity.

Born in Truro, Cornwall, she said she always knew she would work in a job where she could “travel or go to new places”.

“I’ve got an international background. Both my parents worked for the UN and from a very young age we were blessed to live in different countries,” she said.

And Ms Iwuji-Eme’s son – who is already trilingual – now joins the “adventure”.

“He’s going to experience things you can’t learn in a textbook. I want him to lap it all up.”

“Wherever my son is, I’m at home,” Ms Iwuji-Eme said, though she also makes sure to “invest time to speak to family and girlfriends”.

Bulk-buying cereal

In a career that can change continents every three to four years, she says “creature comforts” can become even more important.

“I love my cereal and Shreddies are my thing I bulk-buy before leaving. I’ve got to have some in my cupboard. That and salted caramel Green and Blacks chocolate,” the self-described foodie said.

Having spent the last four years in Brazil, when she wasn’t shaping policy, Ms Iwuji-Eme was learning the Afro-Brazilian martial art of Capoeira.

“I love it. When I went to Brazil, that was on my bucket list to do. It was amazing to be in the land of Capoeira doing it,” she said.

Both she and her son plan to continue doing it in Mozambique.

‘Have a network of champions’

Ms Iwuji-Eme was able “to see some of the people shaping policy from a young age” – as international relations professionals were often in her living room due to her parents’ work.

Armed with her “two passions” – history and politics – Ms Iwuji-Eme went to boarding school in Suffolk before studying economics at University in Manchester.

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    Not everyone will have a upbringing that lends itself so well to diplomacy, but her advice for others is to be resilient, adaptable and able not only to listen to others, but to like people too.

    “Make sure you have a really good network of champions, especially for young women,” she added.

    “These can be mentors and coaches – people you can go to who believe in you. I call them my master alliance. I still have them now – they include family and professional mentors too.”

    Being clear about what you want from a job is also key, Ms Iwuji-Eme said.

    As for her own appointment, alongside forging stronger diplomatic bonds, she hopes to inspire young talent, “regardless of race or background”.