WHILE we agree with Catherine Pepinster that the welfare system is full of inconsistencies (4 October), it is not our experience that "widowed mothers receive benefits that are three times as much as other women raising children alone".

A woman claiming income support with two children aged eight and 11 would receive pounds 108.75 per week; a widowed mother pounds 114.45 per week. However, the widow would not be entitled to free school meals or full housing benefit. Many women previously claiming income support find they are worse off when they are widowed. Women widowed under the age of 45 without dependent children do not receive a widow's pension. They may receive a widow's payment of pounds 1,000 but many have to put that towards funeral costs.

Ms Pepinster seems to be vilifying women for being married. These women took the traditional path that many in our society applaud but are left floundering when their husbands die. He may have been ill for years and the wife may have cared for him, and a housewife in her forties and fifties will find it almost impossible to find a job that pays a living wage.

We support the right of a widowed father to the benefits a widow receives. The system developed around the notion of the man as the breadwinner and we recognise the need to think again, but not at the expense of women left alone. Widows do not need to be pitied but they do need our support.

A married man has been led to believe that if he works and pays National Insurance contributions, his family will be cared for. Many make private provision but poorer families cannot afford to. It is worth noting that since the 1986 Social Security Act - increasing the age qualification - the amount the Government has spent on widow's benefits has decreased, the only contributory benefit to do so.


Widows' Advisory Trust, Birmingham