Letter: Widows deprived

Sir: Donald Macintyre is right to draw attention to the comparative lack of interest in the Government's plan to remove the right to widows' pensions ("Brave move, Mr Darling. Pity you may not succeed", 2 November).

The Government's case is that it is equalising rights between widows and widowers. To do so, it is removing the right to a pension for widows and replacing it with a bereavement allowance, payable to both sexes for six months only. In the Lords I made no progress with a series of amendments to try to restore widows' pensions, but a number of us did succeed (against Government opposition) in increasing the period of the allowance from six months to two years.

The Government's policy represents a massive transfer of resources from women to men, but this has gone largely unremarked in the media. Yet the benefit being removed is a contributory one, based on the National Insurance contributions of the deceased spouse. There has been little discussion of the way in which the contributory principle is gradually being eroded and replaced by benefits dependent upon means-testing.

For some reason, this is regarded as "modernising". But means-tested benefits have a low take-up and are expensive to administer. Many claimants find the process humiliating. It is no way to treat the poor and vulnerable.

MURIEL TURNER

(Baroness Turner of Camden)

London NW6

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