§ Baroness Macleod of Borve
asked Her Majesty's Government:
Whether they have any plans to change widows' pension entitlement for those women who were widowed before 11 th April 1988.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Skelmersdale)
We have been closely monitoring the operation of the Social Security reforms introduced by the Social Security Act 1986. An important part of those reforms was the restructuring of widows' benefits. The prime purpose of these changes was to focus help on older widows and widows with dependent children.
The Government believed then—and continue to believe—that the measures taken to change widows' benefit were right; over the years the needs of widows have changed dramatically. But the basic structure of widows' benefits have remained substantially unaltered for 40 years, a period when there have been far reaching social changes. More women work than ever before and occupational pension cover for widows has grown significantly. The reforms concentrate help when and where it is most needed—immediately on bereavement and to provide continuing help to widows with children and older widows.
When the revised arrangements were introduced on 11 th April 1988, some women whose husbands had died before that date lost their entitlement to widow's pension which they would have had under the old rules. Several such widows have taken cases to the Social Security Commissioner. The commissioner's decisions on four of those cases were published earlier today. We are studying carefully the full legal implications and whether there is a need to appeal on any point. The commissioner decided in 1029WA these cases that there was entitlement to widow's pension for those receiving widow's allowance but not for those receiving widowed mother's allowance. We have decided however irrespective of the commissioner's decisions, on grounds of equity and fairness, to extend entitlement to women widowed before 1 1 th April 1988 on the basis of the arrangements applying before that date. Our decision will bring in those entitled to widowed mother's allowance as well as widow's allowance.
As a consequence of our decision, entitlement to widow's pension will be extended to the following groups of women widowed before 1 1 th April 1988:
- (i) Women widowed when aged 40 or over but under 45 entitled to widow's allowance on llth April 1988 (the group benefiting from the commissioner's decision). This group will now have entitlement to widow's pension.
- (ii) Women widowed when aged 45 or over but under 55 entitled to widow's allowance on 1 I th April 1988. This group will now have entitlement to a higher rate of widow's pension.
- (iii) Women entitled to widowed mother's allowance on 11th April 1988 and who will be aged 40 or over but under 45 when their children cease to be dependent. This group will have entitlement to widow's pension.
- (iv) Women entitled to widowed mother's allowance on 1 1 th April 1988 and who will be aged 45 or over but under 55 when their children cease to be dependent. This group will have entitlement to a higher rate of widow's pension.
There will be no changes to affect those women widowed after 11 th April 1988.
The department will be identifying and contacting the women affected in the next few weeks, and will be arranging payment as soon as possible. Any widow who thinks she may be affected and who has not been contacted within six weeks should get in touch with her local social security office. Over 20,000 women are expected to be affected by these changes at an estimated net cost to public funds of around £5 million in a full year. Payments will be made from the National Insurance Fund. The additional costs in the current year and 1989/90 will be met from the reserve. It will not therefore add to the planned total of public expenditure. We propose to bring forward an amendment to the Social Security Bill currently in another place as soon as practicable. This will also include provision to allow payment of benefit in cases beyond a 12 month period.