Sir David Davis supports cross-part campaign to protect at-risk women and extend bereavement benefits to unmarried parents


As published by The Guardian:

A cross-party coalition of senior MPs including Labour’s Stella Creasy and the Conservative David Davis will try to use the Queen’s speech debate to force the government to comply with legal judgments that found it in breach of human rights.

They are highlighting two issues: unmarried parents who are not entitled to bereavement benefits; and victims of domestic violence who have a special “sanctuary room” to flee into in case of danger and have been made liable to pay the bedroom tax as a result.

The government was found to be in breach of the European convention on human rights for failing to pay bereavement support to unmarried parents by the supreme court in 2018, and again by the high court in February 2020, after the benefit had been renamed.

Similarly, the European court of human rights ruled in October 2019 that applying the bedroom tax to “Sanctuary Scheme” homes – those that are specially adapted to enable at-risk women and children to live safely at home – amounted to unlawful discrimination.

Neither issue has since been rectified by the government. The MPs hope to amend the motion approving the Queen’s speech – usually a formality – until the government commits to resolving them both.

The group, who have written to all their colleagues asking for support, represent nine political parties. They include Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey, Green MP Caroline Lucas and Plaid Cymru’s Westminster leader, Liz Saville Roberts.

“We ask for your support for our amendment to the Queen’s speech to urge the government to make it a priority to remedy these situations and so end the destitution victims of domestic violence and orphaned children face as a result,” they say in the letter.

“This would send a strong message that parliament is committed to ensuring and supporting prompt action in support of protecting the rights of the people and in upholding the rule of law as a result.”

They point out that the issue of bereavement payments affects 2,000 families a year, where a parent dies without being married to, or in a civil partnership with, their partner.

“Parents make the same national insurance contributions whether they’re married or not, and this builds up their entitlement to certain benefits including bereavement support payment – worth almost £10,000 over 18 months to grieving families. It should be understood that the primary victims of this inaction are the children rather than the parents,” the MPs say.

Creasy has a history of rallying cross-party support to force concessions from the Conservatives, including over abortion rights in Northern Ireland, after an amendment to the 2017 Queen’s speech looked likely to succeed.

MPs are due to continue debating the Queen’s speech until next Wednesday. The Speaker decides which amendments are selected; but he is more likely to pick those with broad cross-party support. He can choose up to four.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said it was “carefully considering the court’s decision” on the bedroom tax, adding that discretionary housing benefit was also available for those in most need.

On payments to bereaved parents, the spokesperson said: “We understand how vital this support is to families. As we have said, we will be taking forward the legislative process to extend Bereavement Support Payment and Widowed Parent’s Allowance to unmarried couples with children, and we are carefully considering the detail and implementation which we will outline in due course.”