Amongst discussions of the EU referendum and the Human Rights Act, it’s tricky to identify exactly what today’s announcement of the new Government’s legislative intentions means for bereaved families. We’ve rounded up here the key points that struck us in reading the Queen’s Speech briefing – do post a comment if you’ve spotted anything else.
First up, one of the main headlines from the Speech was the freezing of working-age benefits for two years from 2016/17. Although it isn’t spelled out, we think this will affect Guardian’s Allowance, Widowed Parent’s Allowance and its predecessors, so that these benefits will be worth less over time to families with grieving children.
We also think that some widowed parents will be affected by a lowering of the annual benefits cap from £26,000 to £23,000. Charities have already warned that single parent families are bearing the brunt of the restriction. Households where someone is eligible for War Widows or Widowers Pension will be exempt from the cap.
Work and childcare
For widows and widowers with very young children who go back to (or take up) work following their partner’s death, the doubling of free childcare for 3 and 4 year olds to 30 hours a week for 38 weeks a year will be good news, provided the Government is able to address challenges in recruiting well-qualified and experienced staff, and in providing high-quality places for children with special educational needs or disabilities.
We know that the provision of bereavement support is patchy across the country, but even where it exists, some families don’t find out about it for a long time. The Childcare Bill will require local authorities to publish information about services and facilities that parents might find helpful. Further down the line, some families will need to access mental health support: the Queen’s Speech reiterated the government’s manifesto commitment to introduce standards in access and waiting times for mental health services.
Support in specific circumstances
The Victims of Crime bill will put key entitlements of the Victims Code into legislation. This will mean that families bereaved through murder and manslaughter will have the right to make a Victim Personal Statement and read it out in court at sentencing and at the Parole Board.
People seeking redress about the way a family member died may be affected by the Draft Public Service Ombudsman Bill which is likely to merge the roles of the Parliamentary Ombudsman, the Health Ombudsman (who recently published a report on poor end-of-life care), the Local Government Ombudsman and potentially the Housing Ombudsman.
Those bereaved by the Troubles in Northern Ireland will see a range of provision under the Northern Ireland (Stormont House Agreement) Bill. This will establish a Historical Investigations Unit, a dedicated support staff and a new independent cross-border body, the Independent Commission for Information Retrieval (ICIR). Victims and survivors will be able to seek and privately receive, through the ICIR, information about the Troubles-related death of their next-of-kin. A new independent Oral History Archive will provide a central place for people from throughout the UK and Ireland to share experiences and narratives related to the Troubles.
Charities providing bereavement support
The Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill (England and Wales) will make it easier for charities to make social investments, pursuing both a social and financial return.
Today’s set of announcements is a mixed bag for those families dealing with the death of someone close. While in coalition government, the Conservative Party introduced the Family Test to make sure that all new laws support strong and stable families. The test includes a consideration of what kind of impact the policy will have on families going through key transitions such as bereavement. It’s vital that they keep this question in mind as the new raft of bills progresses through Parliament, to secure the gains and mitigate the losses that this Queen’s Speech brings for families with grieving children.