Police Widows Pensions
During this short debate in Westminster Hall, MPs called for the overhauling of “unfair” rules to allow thousands of police widows to remarry without losing their pensions.
Mike Penning, the policing minister, told MPs in the debate that there was a compelling case to close the loophole that can hit the bereaved financially if they find another partner.
Richard Graham: It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Williams, and a real pleasure to be able to speak on an issue that is important to Members from all parts of the House. The happiness of the many individuals involved and the reputation of the Government and the House for ensuring that, as far as possible, justice is done for those who for no reasons of their own find themselves in a difficult situation hinge to some extent on the decisions made on this matter by Ministers and, in due course, the Government.
I will sketch the background to how I came to bring this debate to the House, run through some of the examples I hope the Minister will consider, and summarise by making the argument that the Government should reconsider how police widows’ and widowers’ pre-1987 pensions are treated. Just before Christmas last year, I received an e-mail from the Police Federation outlining a situation of which I had until then been unaware. It pointed out that the Police Pensions Regulations 1987 did not allow a number of police widows and widowers to marry or cohabit without losing their right to a police widow’s or widower’s pension for life. The e-mail highlighted the case being made by PC Colin Hall’s widow, Cathryn Hall, who was widowed at the age of 24 in 1987 and left to bring up her four-year-old daughter alone.
Cathryn, who is with us today—as are some 15 other widows and widowers—was faced with a difficult decision: to keep her police widow’s pension or to move in with her partner, which would mean that she was no longer eligible to receive the pension. She set up a petition, which has more than 71,000 signatures. The campaign, which I was unaware of until Christmas last year, is one I would like the police Minister to consider. In the petition, Cathryn describes how her husband Colin died and life after his death, and she makes the case as to why she and other widows should be treated in the same way as those whose pensions are covered by the change in the 1987 regulations. She makes the point that the Minister is in a difficult position in balancing the sacrifices of police officers and their widows or widowers against those of members of the armed forces, for whom significant changes were made on Remembrance Sunday last year.
in June 2005. She survived on the pension that the service provided and brought up three children on her own. She recently met another man and married him at the end of October 2014, which, as she writes,Since I have been in contact with Cathryn Hall, she has kindly introduced me to a number of other widows and widowers, including two from my county of Gloucestershire: Sharon Jones and Julie Shadwick, both of whom have sad stories to tell. Many others have been in contact with their MPs, but there is not time, alas, to read out all their stories. I will mention Sharon’s story. She was married to Ian Jones, a chief inspector in the Gloucestershire police force, who was killed in an accident
“brings me a wonderful opportunity to start a new life. However, as a result of this, I have lost my pension entitlement which I object to most strongly. I am being penalised for finding new love after 10 years alone.”
Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that it is not just the widows, but the children who are impacted by these decisions? As a Parliament, we talk a great deal about the importance of children being brought up within a loving family. If we are condemning widows and widowers to live alone and to have their children outside of a loving family, that is also wrong and something we should address and right.
Richard Graham: As so often, the hon. Lady makes a good point. Children are often the people we do not mention when we discuss these issues, but they can suffer the most. I am grateful to her.
...What changed in 2006 was society’s perception of fairness, and the new scheme in 2006 recognised that. All new recruits since 2006 and anyone who transferred to the new scheme—there were some who did not—now knows that should the worst happen, their loved ones will receive their pension for life, irrespective of whether the survivor remarries or forms a new partnership. That applies to unmarried but cohabiting partners, too. The new regulations did not apply retrospectively to those who had left the service before 2006 or had died before that date. For those who are penalised in that way, such as Cathryn Hall, the many who are here today and the other 800 to 900 widows and widowers—most of them are widows—it must be frustrating to have remarried and seen financial disadvantage relative to those who were widowed later. It is an issue of fairness.
The Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims (Mike Penning): I reiterate the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham)—it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Williams.
I want to indicate from the outset that, although the debate is short, if anyone has not had an opportunity to contribute so far, I am happy to take interventions. My hon. Friend was very generous in taking interventions, but it is absolutely right that colleagues who have been present from the start of the debate and want to contribute should be able to do so.
As my hon. Friend mentioned, I approach the issue of police widows’ pensions not only as a former uniformed guardsman but as a former firefighter. I served alongside the police on many occasions—some of those situations were very dangerous and the police put their lives in danger—as well as with the other emergency services. My hon. Friend touched on the fact that, through its devolved powers, Northern Ireland has already acceded to the widows’ requests. I was the Northern Ireland Minister at the time and, although that matter is devolved, I can assure Members that I was lobbied very heavily in Northern Ireland. I hope that I was part of that decision.
Before I took on ministerial responsibilities for policing fairly recently, I was at the Department for Work and Pensions. My Parliamentary Private Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Steve Brine), who is sitting behind me but is not allowed to speak because of protocol, was already lobbying me. We were already discussing the matter before fate decided that I was going to be the Minister with responsibility for policing in England and Wales.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Gloucester and for Winchester for their campaigns on behalf of not only their constituents but the constituents of Members from both sides of the House. I thank colleagues for writing to me—some of them many times; some because they wanted to know the exact position—and I congratulate the campaigners on their online petition, which is growing daily.