Minister must consider Christmas gift of equality for all families

Senator Mark Wall
13 December 2022
  • Labour’s Social Welfare (Surviving Cohabitant’s Pension) Bill would provide security to the over 75,000 cohabiting families in Ireland

Labour Senator Mark Wall said government must commit to addressing the inequity in current social welfare systems when it comes to cohabiting couples.

Following a High Court judgement in the O’Meara Case in October 2022, Senator Wall said the courts are clear, the Oireachtas has the power to provide compassion for all families when they need it most.

There are over 75,000 cohabiting families living in Ireland today yet they have no right to a Widow’s Contributory Pension or the once-off Bereavement Grant in the event of the death of one partner.

Senator Wall said:

“In the run up to Christmas, Labour is reiterating it’s call on government to take a compassionate approach for all families. Our social welfare laws simply haven’t kept pace with the way in which people live their lives. It’s time to update the law to provide social protection rights for cohabiting couples in the event of a bereavement.

“Labour brought forward legislation to amend social welfare payments earlier this year, yet Minister Humphreys failed to make progress for the over 75,000 families potentially impacted by the gap in the welfare system, opting to delay the Bill rather than acting to support all families.

“The Widow’s Contributory Pension is a weekly payment of €208.50-€258.50 depending on the age and contributions of the recipient. The Bereavement Grant is a once off payment of €8,000. This is a small amount of money for the Exchequer to provide to people, yet can go so far for any family who has lost a loved one. As we all know, in the weeks and months after we lose a loved one, financial support is vital not only to cover funeral costs, but also for many families to take into account the loss of an income.

“Cohabiting also has an impact on lots of State payments and supports – not just social welfare payments – medical cards, mature students going back to college, and many more examples. A cohabiting couple can’t claim or transfer unused tax credits between themselves and there can also be an inheritance tax burden when a partner dies.

“For the assessment of eligibility for social welfare payments a cohabiting couple is treated as together for income assessment – the same as married couples, but not if one of them dies. It’s nonsensical and unfortunately, many people don’t know that this gap in the welfare system exists until the worst happens.

“The way people live their lives has changed. With more opting not to marry, and many just not getting around to it, it is unconscionable that we are discriminating on this basis when it comes to welfare supports following a bereavement. We need to have an overhaul of our welfare system to take into account the structure of family in Ireland today. We are calling on the Minister to reconsider her position on Labour’s Bill and prioritise fixing the current gaps in Ireland’s welfare legislation in 2023.”

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