Bereavement Support Campaign

What is it?

A campaign launched by Neale Hanvey MP that argues for the annual publication of take-up rates of Bereavement Support Payment (BSP), and to raise public awareness of the social security payment.

Why?

Because Neale believes the uptake of BSP could be as low as 60 percent. That would put BSP on par with the notoriously under-claimed Pension Credit. 

But ultimately, no one knows for sure if the uptake is that low. Why? Well, when Neale asked about the take-up rates, he was told by the minister that the UK government doesn't gather the necessary data, so there is no way of analysing BSP.

So, the UK government want us to believe that they introduced a new social security payment in April 2017 with absolutely no way of knowing if it is properly supporting people who have just lost their spouses. 

 

If that's the case, where does the 60 percent figure come from? 

Well, Neale and his team weren't going to accept that as the end of the matter. They got in touch with the House of Commons Library who provided the figures for the total claims that were accepted across the UK, in Scotland, and in Neale's Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath Constituency. They then gathered data about monthly deaths in Scotland from the National Records of Scotland. Armed with this info, the team ran the sums and came up with an estimated take-up rate (more info on their methodology is below). 

Of course, this is a rough estimate based on publicly-available data and it includes several assumptions. Nevertheless, Neale's hope is the estimated take-up rate shows that BSP is not reaching a significant number of people. These are people who are in grief, who really need support, and who are currently being let down by the state. 

OK, you've grabbed my interest. Can you give us an overview of the story?
 

Sure thing. The crux of the story is this...

  • The UK government introduced BSP to replace Widowed Parent’s Allowance, Bereavement Allowance, and Bereavement Payments in April 2017.

  • Unlike Pension Credit, Housing Benefit, or other social security payments, the UK government does not publish estimated take-up rates of BSP.

  • This led Colleen Fletcher MP to submit a written question on the issue in 2019, only to be told by the minister that no assessment had yet taken place. 

  • Neale was alerted to a possible issue through casework coming into his office, with one constituent losing out on money because he’d been unaware that he was eligible (you have to apply within the first three months of your partner’s death to get the full amount).

  • Neale then submitted a written parliamentary question on 22 April 2021 asking the question again about whether an assessment of BSP had taken place. The minister now claimed that it was impossible to carry out such an assessment because the UK government does not gather the necessary data. 

  • Neale’s office then obtained data from the House of Commons Library and the National Records of Scotland. This was used to estimate the take-up rate across Scotland and specifically for Neale’s Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath Constituency. 

  • Neale's estimate takes into account various factors by drawing on census data, UK government data around other benefits, and a UN report on mortality. So, it’s the best his team could do with the available information, but we need the UK government to run an official analysis to get an accurate figure.

  • Neale is now launching a campaign to highlight the issue. He believes that this is an important issue to push at any time, but particularly in the context of Covid when there are potentially many more missing out on a payment designed to support people who have lost their partners. 

 

Right, I want to know more about how you arrived at the 60 percent take-up rate figure?

Are you sitting comfortably? OK, so we ran the data through an 11 step process to try to take into account a range of factors, but also to keep the calculation simple enough that we didn't complicate the issue. Here is what we did...

Step 1: We wanted to remove people who would not be eligible for BSP because they had not paid NI for 25 weeks in one year since 1975. The Resolution Foundation estimate that 8.2% of people in the UK have never worked, so we removed 8.2% from our monthly total deaths.

Step 2: We then had to work out how many of these deaths would be people under pension age. According to the UN, 76% of deaths in Europe are accounted for by over-65s. The other 24% is therefore under-65, so we calculated 24% of our figure. 

 

Step 3: We then wanted to remove people who would be ineligible because they weren’t married. According to Scotland’s Census, 45% of over 16s are married, so we calculated 45% of our figure. 

 

Step 4: We then calculated the take-up rate for each month by taking the claims allowed (provided by the House of Commons Library) and working that out as a percentage of our figure (which was the estimated total eligible for BSP).

 

Step 5: To work out how many eligible people had not applied, we took our final figure and removed the total claims allowed number. 

 

Step 6: We now moved on to estimate how much money had gone unclaimed. A person’s eligibility for high-rate BSP is on the basis of receiving child benefit. According to the UK Government stats from 2016, 565,850 households were in receipt of child benefit in Scotland. And according to the National Records of Scotland, there are 2.5million households in Scotland. So, we worked that out as a percentage, and it equals 22.6%. 

 

Step 7: We then worked out how many people would be eligible for high-rate BSP by taking 22.6% of our total eligible figure. 

 

Step 8: High-rate BSP is a first payment of £3,500 and a subsequent 18 payments of £350 (provided you apply within the first three months of your spouse’s death). That adds up to £9,800. We then took our figure for the number eligible for high-rate BSP and multiplied it by the amount each would receive. 

 

Step 9: We did the same calculation for low-rate BSP. It is a first payment of £2,500 followed by 18 payments of £100 – so a total of £4,300. 

 

Step 10: The estimates of the high-rate and low-rate that went unclaimed were then added together to give us the total amount of money that went unclaimed each month. 

 

Step 11: Finally, we simply took an average of the take-up rate for each month to give us the overall take-up rate figure of 60% in Scotland. And we tallied up the total unclaimed money (and so on) to give us the total figures between April 2017 and February 2020. We didn't go beyond February 2020 since the excess deaths due to Covid would have introduced another factor that would have potentially skewed the figures. 

I'm sold, but I'd like to see your analysis and the data supplied by the House of Commons Library and National Records of Scotland?

Of course, you can grab them here:

Great, can I see your press release again?

Embargo: For immediate release
26 May 2021

Estimated £37million in Bereavement Support Payment not claimed in Scotland

The UK government has been slammed as "staggeringly incompetent” by an MP who claims that nearly 7,000 Scots may have missed out on a payment to support people who have lost their spouses.

Neale Hanvey, the MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, has launched a campaign to push the UK government to publish a yearly estimated take-up rate of Bereavement Support Payment (BSP), as already happens for other social-security payments such as Pension Credit.

The campaign comes after Mr Hanvey managed to extract new information from the UK government confirming that the Department for Work and Pensions has no intention to assess the take-up rate of BSP.

In February 2019, Labour MP Colleen Fletcher asked the UK government about the new benefit and was told that ‘to date no assessment of the take up rate of BSP has been made’. Mr Hanvey followed this up with a written parliamentary question in April this year, but the minister, Guy Opperman MP, now claims that it is not possible to carry out such an assessment of BSP because ‘this would require monthly data on deaths by age and marital status’.

However, using figures supplied by the House of Commons Library and the National Records of Scotland, Mr Hanvey and his team have estimated the take-up rate of Bereavement Support Payment between April 2017 and February 2020 to be just 60 percent in Scotland.

If correct, this means that Bereavement Support Payment has one of the lowest take-up rates of any social-security payment in the UK, putting BSP on par with the notoriously under-claimed Pension Credit. By comparison, Income Support and Income-related Employment and Support Allowance has a take-up rate of 90 percent and Housing Benefit 80 percent.

Bereavement Support Payment was introduced in April 2017 to replace Widowed Parent’s Allowance, Bereavement Allowance, and Bereavement Payments. It is available to people whose husband, wife, or civil partner died in the last 21 months. The deceased must have been under pension age at the time of their death and have paid National Insurance contributions for at least 25 weeks in one tax year since 6 April 1975.

 

Commenting, Neale Hanvey MP said:

“I am shocked that so much money may have been deprived from people across Scotland.

“The minister claims that you can’t accurately assess the take-up rate of Bereavement Support Payment because the UK government doesn’t collect the necessary data. If we take that at face value, we’re being told that the DWP introduced a new social-security payment with absolutely no way of assessing whether it was supporting people who had just lost their partners.

“That is at best a staggeringly incompetent approach to supporting people.

“I first became aware of a possible issue when a constituent contacted me about missing out on some of the bereavement payment. He was unaware he was eligible until a chance comment from a friend and by that time he’d missed out on money, since you only get the full entitlement if you apply within three months of your partner’s death.

“Some people have sadly fared even worse. If our calculations are right, nearly 7,000 people have missed out on any payment at all.

“If the UK government can estimate the take-up rate of other social-security payments, they can do the same for BSP. It wasn’t hard for my team to get the necessary figures, factor in some assumptions drawn from sources like UN reports and the UK government’s own statistics, and come up with a rough estimate of the take-up rate.

“I’ll be ramping up the pressure on the UK government over the next few months to make sure more people don’t miss out on the financial support they are due. This is important work at any time, but particularly in the tragic context of the Covid-pandemic where so many people have been bereaved in the last year.”

<ENDS>

Nice one. Is Neale available for interview about this? 

Neale would love to chat to you about the campaign. Just get in touch with his comms officer, Craig, by emailing craig.kelly@parliament.uk

Oh, and if you'd like to use a picture of Neale, feel free to grab one from here