Man whose long-term partner died not entitled to widow’s pension, Dáil told

Provision of widower's allowance to be looked at for unmarried couples in cases of death

Labour leader Alan Kelly: ‘The family unit and how it is constituted in our country has changed fundamentally.’ Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Labour leader Alan Kelly: ‘The family unit and how it is constituted in our country has changed fundamentally.’ Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

The Tánaiste has said he will ask the Minister for Social Protection to examine social welfare laws to see if changes can be made to provide benefits in cases of long-term unmarried couples where one person dies.

Leo Varadkar was commenting on a case raised in the Dáil by Labour leader Alan Kelly of John O’Meara from Tipperary who is not eligible for social welfare payments after the death of his long-term partner, Michelle.

Michelle was diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2018 and spent her 40th birthday receiving chemotherapy but recovered.

“They had great plans to get married because they knew they needed to do so to protect their future together,” Mr Kelly said, but Michelle contracted Covid-19 on December 18th last year and died on January 31st this year.

“Because they haven’t got around to getting married the State provides little or no support to John and his family. If he lost his livelihood by cohabiting with Michelle, he would have been assessed for jobseeker’s allowance. But now he is not entitled to any widow’s pension,” Mr Kelly said.

“If you’re a divorced couple, they’re entitled to the widow’s pension, but not if you didn’t get around to getting married.”

He said Mr O’Meara did not qualify for one-parent income allowance because he was tested on his previous year’s income. “He doesn’t qualify for jobseeker’s allowance because he’s had to give up his job” to care for his children, Mr Kelly said, adding Mr O’Meara was self-employed.

The Labour leader said there were thousands of couples in this situation and there had to be change.

Changed family unit

Holding up a copy of the Constitution, he said: “The family unit and how it is constituted in our country has changed fundamentally, where people live their lives has changed radically.”

He also called for consideration to be given to some form of interim payment for people in these circumstances.

Mr Varadkar said he would ask Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys “to examine social protection law and see if, at least, into the future, there could be changes for people who are long-term partners”.

He would also bring this case to the Minister if Mr Kelly provided the details to see what options there might be.

But he said that social protection “is one of the areas that is very much defined in the law by regulation. There’s little or no discretion for Ministers in that regard with exception of the exceptional payment.”

Mr Varadkar said the constitutional definition of the family is out of date and based on a “traditional or Christian or Catholic view of the family, which is not wrong”. He said the definition of marriage should be updated and modernised based “on the view of two married people”, including a man and woman, two men or two women.