Brexit and child bereavement

Although more than two months have passed since the referendum on the UK leaving the EU, we are not much clearer about what this will mean for children and families in their everyday lives, and for the organisations that seek to support them. In this piece, we explore some of the potential implications. Of course, much will depend on whether the UK economy goes into recession, and we simply don’t know whether that will happen.

What will happen to funding for child bereavement services?

Before the referendum, concerns were raised about the loss of EU funding sources for the charity sector in general, although the leave campaign suggested that these could be made up by the net savings to the UK from no longer having to make contributions to the EU. In any case, we’re not aware of EU funding going directly to UK childhood bereavement services, so this change is unlikely to have a direct impact on services’ budgets.

However, there may be implications for those services which receive funding from their local authority or CCG. Those local authorities that receive direct EU funding for infrastructure or regeneration schemes might lose this in future, with implications from the local services they can fund, again unless the UK Government makes these up from net savings.

What will happen to policy change?

The sheer amount of work that will go into planning for Brexit suggests that parliamentary and civil service time and energy is likely to be snarled up for a long time. Uncertainty over political direction, combined with a huge workload, mean that it will be a challenge to keep policy issues affecting bereaved children on the agenda. However, now that the new ministers have had a chance to get to know their portfolios following the reshuffle, we are starting to write and ask for meetings to raise some of the points of most concern.

What will happen to reforms to bereavement benefits?

The Government has been planning to implement significant changes to bereavement benefits from April 2017, significantly cutting the amount of time over which widowed parents and their children are supported. Currently, Widowed Parent’s Allowance is paid until the youngest child leaves full time education, but the new Bereavement Support Payment will only be paid for one year. We have proposed cost-neutral ways in which the payments could be made over a longer period. However, the Government has rejected these, saying that a 1-year payment can be classed as a ‘death grant’ while going over a year means that the benefit would probably be seen as a ‘survivor benefit’. Unlike death grants, survivor benefits are exportable to the EU, and so the Government worries that it would be liable to pay this to the EU families of anyone who had worked here for long enough before they died. (We already dispute this, as if a death grant can be paid over one year we don’t see why it can’t be stretched over a longer period. Also, provision is much more generous in many EU countries, so given the choice, a widow(er) would be very unlikely to claim from the UK rather than from their country of residence). In any case, the Government’s position is now undermined by Brexit, and we are calling strongly for a rethink.

Bereavement across Europe

CBN has been helping to shape a Family Bereavement Network in Europe, bringing together practitioners and researchers across EU countries to share policy and practice with bereaved children and families where a child has died. We remain committed to the objectives of this work, but it is currently unfunded and our position in relation to any funded European work is now uncertain. We still hope to share, learn and influence with our partners across Europe where this is of help to bereaved children and their families.

We will continue to monitor the implications of Brexit. And whatever the shape and timescale of our exit from Europe, we will continue our work to improve outcomes for children and young people facing the impact of death on their lives.