Lord Loomba (Crossbench) has tabled the following question for short debate (QSD) in the House of Lords:
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to establish a support group to provide (1) financial support, and (2) practical help, to Covid-19 widows and widowers trying to overcome bereavement grief.
This question is currently on a reserve list of balloted QSDs. At the time of writing, a date for the debate is yet to be scheduled.
As at 9 November 2021, over 165,000 deaths UK-wide have included mention of coronavirus on the death certificate since the start of the pandemic. Statistics have also showed that death rates in England and Wales were higher for older age groups and for men.
Official statistics on the number of deaths involving those in a marriage or civil partnership is less up to date, only covering 28 December 2019 to 24 July 2020. However, during this period, the data showed that 19,127 deaths involving coronavirus in England and Wales were of someone in a marriage or civil partnership (this was out of an estimated 41,000 deaths at this time). Of these, 14,040 (73%) were men and 5,087 (27%) were women.
Concerns about widows and widowers
Writing a piece for Politics Home published in March 2021, Lord Loomba set out his concerns about the number of widows caused by coronavirus and the difficulties they may face. He called on the Government to set up a widows support group to offer practical and financial support, describing it as a “moral duty”:
Sadly, more men have died leaving behind many Covid widows. Even in the UK, more than 125,000 people have died as a result of Covid-19. I suspect that more than 50 percent of those left behind are women, who have lost their loved one. They are now lonely, insecure and victims of bereavement grief […]
Therefore, I urge the UK Government to set up a Covid-19 widows support group to provide financial support and practical help to overcome bereavement grief. This group should be set up soon as possible. We know that this dreadful virus has killed more people from BAME backgrounds. They are poor and are faced with a double burden likely to impact both their—and their children’s—lives for years to come. So it is our moral duty, particularly at this moment—where so many women are in need of empowerment and championing—to set up financial help and support for their bereavement grief. Their unique stories deserve to be heard and prioritised.
The campaign group Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice has also highlighted the financial pressures that can be caused by Covid-19 bereavement, particularly for lower income families. For example, the group has highlighted funeral expenses, possible debts, and the difficulties dealing with changed circumstances. The group has also called for an urgent statutory inquiry of the Government’s handling of the pandemic and for families to be offered more help with financial matters:
We need to increase financial support for low-income families through the social fund, streamlining applications where possible, and take action to ensure that funeral directors’ costs are reasonable.
In addition, the BBC News article ‘Covid: the pandemic’s young widows and widowers’ details the experiences of some younger people who have lost their partner due to coronavirus. It discusses the trauma and grief suffered and highlights a Facebook support group that has been set up to help those affected.
Responding to an oral question in the House of Commons on the support available for coronavirus widows and widowers in May 2020, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Thérèse Coffey, highlighted the availability of bereavement support payments. She explained:
The bereavement support payment supports working-age people who have lost a spouse or civil partner after 6 April 2017 by contributing to the more immediate additional costs associated with bereavement. People without children get an initial payment of £2,500 and 18 subsequent monthly payments of £100; those with children receive an initial payment of £3,500 and 18 subsequent payments of £350. Bereavement support payment is not taxable, and the least well-off will gain the most, as they receive the payment in full alongside any other benefit entitlements.
The Government also maintains a list of links to the benefits and financial support available when someone dies. This includes information on bereavement support payments, child benefit and universal credit.
A number of organisations have published articles on and links to the support available for widows. For example, WAY (Widowed and Young) have produced articles about their own online support groups and on planning for the future, as well as providing links to resources. These include links to mental health support, advice for coping with bereavement and online socialising.
Cover image by John Cameron on Unsplash.