One in five people fall below the official poverty line following the death of their partner. "Hence the recent fall in the value of annuities, savings and investments means an even wider group of older people could face financial difficulties when their partner dies, whether these difficulties are short-lived or longer lasting," says researcher Anne Corden of the Social Policy Research Unit, University of York.
People, whose partners had been in paid work, reported the largest income falls, mainly affecting those under pension age. Women with or without children were more at risk of financial decline than men and two in five women pensioners were in poverty immediately after bereavement. While some of these experiences of poverty were short-lived, bereaved women were more likely to experience poverty lasting up to three years after the death. The number of women feeling financially worse off doubled from 24 per cent to 48 per cent. Comparable figures for men were 19 and 30 per cent respectively.
Based on its exploration of a wide range of economic, administrative, emotional, and psychological issues following the death of a partner, the study highlights the need for:
Better awareness of financial issues
Easing adjustment to loss
Most people had to deal with diverse administrative and regulatory bodies. The volume of work required, delays, errors and problems in communication were widely experienced as an overwhelming burden.
Researchers highlight the need of processes to help people find information they need quicker, staff with skills for dealing with people in grief, and data sharing to reduce documentation required, would increase business efficiency as well as trust and compliance among service users.
Counselling support for 'economic components' of grief
Supporting bereaved people who want to share feelings about their financial situation and new economic roles may ease adjustment to their loss.
Findings suggest that while it is not the role of bereavement counselling services to provide expertise in all the administrative and financial aspects of bereavement, they would benefit from greater awareness of the emotional impact of changed financial circumstances on the bereaved person.
Financial support for the bereaved
Immediate financial demands facing bereaved people included paying for the funeral and housing costs including changes in home ownership and tenancy.
After a death, information and advice about benefits, pensions and tax, as well as support in accessing financial services help people avoid financial hardship.
Researchers suggest that when policymakers review financial support for bereaved people, there should be thorough examination of entitlement, take-up and impact of bereavement benefits and social fund funeral expenses payments, and people's perceptions of these payments.
Researchers conclude that some financial difficulties following death of a partner can be prevented; others can be avoided. Policymaking must address the immediate circumstances of people experiencing bereavement. In the long term, enabling people to sustain paid employment throughout their working lives, occupational and private pensions, will help ensure an acceptable standard of living in retirement and protect people whose partner has died from financial hardship and economic decline.
Materials provided by Economic & Social Research Council. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
Cite This Page: