Tory grandee urges law change on bereavement benefits after Supreme Court ruling

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Ministers have faced calls to “show compassion” and change the law on bereavement benefits after a Supreme Court victory for an unmarried mother.

Siobhan McLaughlin, 46, was refused the benefit after her partner of 23 years John Adams died from cancer in January 2014 because the couple, who had four children, were not married or in a civil partnership.

But, by a majority of four justices to one, the Supreme Court ruled last week that the current law on the allowance is “incompatible” with Human Rights legislation.

Tory grandee Sir Mike Penning, speaking in the Commons, urged ministers to step in and change the law.

The former work and pensions minister said: “I say to the minister that I am no fan of the European courts and I am extremely pro-marriage, but we have to live in the modern world that we live in now.

“When he’s looking at how the Government responds to this court ruling can we look at something called fairness and natural justice?

“Many, many people would have been able to go to work because their partner stayed at home with the children and then they’ve lost their loved one, but they’re not married.

“We need to show compassion at the same time as understanding the benefit system.”

MP portraits
Stella Creasy : UK Parliament official portrait 2017.

She said: “Will he learn from Germany where the money follows the child through orphan pensions and marriage isn’t the requirement but parenting is?”

Work and Pensions Minister Justin Tomlinson responded to MPs’ concerns saying that the Government was in the “very earliest stages” of considering the ruling.

He added: “Officials at the department are closely working with their counterparts in Northern Ireland to examine the judgment and what our next steps should be.”

“However, as the House will be aware, only Parliament is able to change primary legislation and Lady Hale ruled that a declaration of incompatibility does not change the law: it is then for the relevant legislature to decide whether or how it should be changed.

“Therefore the court’s ruling does not change the current eligibility rules for receiving bereavement benefits.”

Shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood responded: “Unmarried bereaved parents should not be subject to discrimination because of their marital status, putting it simply: their children’s needs are the same.”

She added: “The purpose of financial support by the state for bereaved families is to try to ensure that as far as possible families struggling with the grief at the loss of a parent or partner should not have to face the additional worry of how they will manage financially.

“That should surely apply to families regardless of whether the parents were married or not, as the Supreme Court said last week.”

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