`Five years together, but I'm left with nothing'

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The Independent Online
Angela Clark remembers vividly the day her partner, Gary Freeman, a serving CID officer in Chesterfield, died while on duty, writes Nic Cicutti.

"That morning, he kissed me goodbye as usual, told me that he loved me and went off to work," she recalls. "At about lunchtime the police came round to the house to say that there had been an accident and he was dead."

Mr Freeman was a passenger in a car which was involved in a collision. It was then Ms Clark discovered, that despite having lived with her partner for five years and the birth of their son, George, she would not be entitled to a police widow's pension.

"A member of the Police Federation called and said that I was not eligible because we were not married. Gary had been a serving police officer for 19 years and always paid into his pension scheme.

"Had we been married I would have been entitled to a pension of about pounds 12,000 a year.

"Ironically, we were due to marry but we had been forced to postpone the wedding because I was ill at the time. I still have my wedding dress in the cupboard."

Ms Clark now works part-time as a careers adviser, but would have preferred to remain at home, looking after her son.

"I would have liked to be there to see George growing up. Instead, he goes to a child minder.

"It is immoral that people can be left with nothing because of a piece of paper. All I have are some wonderful memories of Gary and a beautiful son.

"But the way we have been treated is like all the time we spent together and the love we shared was for nothing."

Despite living together for 10 years, Paul Gerber and his partner, Dorothy Garson, made a conscious decision not to marry. They stuck by their decision even after the birth of their son, Adam, now aged seven, and a five-year-old daughter, Lauren.

"We had always operated together as a family and as partners. We shared all household responsibilities, paid our bills together, and agreed that we did not want the extra complications of marriage," says Paul, who works for the National Society for the Protection of Children.

About two years ago, Dorothy, a social worker in West Glamorgan, was diagnosed as suffering from lymphoma, a form of cancer. She died last summer, leaving Paul to bring up Adam and Lauren on his own.

"Pensions were an issue we never addressed and in any event, in the last few months, Dorothy was so ill we didn't even consider what might happen if she died."

For many years, Dorothy had contributed to a local authority pension scheme. Although her children will receive a small pension until they become adults, the additional amount payable to a married spouse is not payable to Mr Gerber.

"I don't know how much I might have received - the process of grieving means you are not functioning very well. We are obviously far worse off financially than when Dorothy was alive, because our income was halved.

"But it is not really a question of the money. It just seems so unfair that people should be discriminated against and punished after death, simply because they weren't married.

"The irony is that these pension schemes are prepared to recognise non- marriage for the purpose of withdrawing pension benefits from a widow or widower if they begin to cohabit with another partner.

"I feel both angry and hopeless because the only reason our family is not getting what it is entitled to is essentially on moral grounds."