Carolyn Harris (Swansea East) (Lab)
Today I will talk about two issues that I have raised since I came to this place—I have also raised them in Wales—and the reaction to those campaigns: they are the Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign, and children’s funerals.
I call upon the Government to stop burying their heads in the sand and do the right thing by all WASPI women. Today I am talking specifically about Welsh WASPI women. Many of them are in work not because they want to be, but because they have to be. Although I agree that working is the ideal situation, the ability to work and the availability of work are not an option for all Welsh women who find themselves in that predicament. As a result, many have to rely on the benefits system. Tens of thousands of women across Wales, including over 3,000 in my own constituency, have been unfairly treated by the changes to the state pension that have led to the birth of the WASPI movement. We on the Labour Benches are a voice for Welsh WASPI women. Indeed, Welsh Labour local authorities are stepping up to the plate and calling on the UK Government to make appropriate provision for the WASPI women. Local authorities such as Caerphilly, Neath Port Talbot, Rhondda, Wrexham and Swansea have all pledged their support for fair transitional arrangements. Many, many more are working towards replicating that pledge.
The Welsh Government give free bus passes to individuals over 60, which puts Welsh WASPI at an advantage in as much as they are able to travel free. This is especially important if they are expected to travel to benefit offices or work trial placements as a requirement of any of the benefits they may have to claim to survive. Talking of buses, next Wednesday the M4 will hopefully be awash with purple as WASPI women from Wales travel to London to join the WASPI demonstration. Women from across the UK will vent their frustration at the Government’s reluctance to engage constructively on this issue. There will be many, many Welsh women in that throng, including a coachful from my own city of Swansea.
The last subject I want to mention is a campaign that is very personal to me: the funding of children’s funerals. I am very proud that since I first spoke in this Chamber about my own son’s passing and the difficulties I experienced in funding the funeral, almost all Welsh Labour local authorities have responded by scrapping fees for children’s funerals. To name just a few whose reaction was extremely swift: my own city of Swansea, Torfaen, Merthyr Tydfil, Rhondda Cynon Taf and, just this week, Bridgend.
Chris Elmore (Ogmore) (Lab/Co-op)
Along with my hon. Friend, I welcome the news that Bridgend County Borough Council, and Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council in my constituency, have cancelled child burial fees. Does she not agree that it is very upsetting for families who lose a child that it has taken individual councils to change these rulings, rather than the British Government stepping up to the plate and providing the money to enable all local councils across the UK to do this immediately?
I certainly do, and my hon. Friend will appreciate that it has been very painful for me to expose myself in this way to get the right thing done.
I believe the commitments of those local authorities have been made with compassion. Until I raised it, many local authorities were unaware that the cost of a child’s funeral was an issue for many bereaved parents. I was able to expose the elephant in the room, which is that the privacy and intimacy of that situation are a social taboo. Very few people will open a conversation with an undertaker with the words, “We will have what we can afford.” Instead, they want a service and a funeral that reflect the depth of their love for the one they have lost. When you lose a child, there is no consideration of anything, including cost. Rational thought and basic common sense leave you as you try to come to terms with your own grief and how to get through each day. I am so grateful to those Welsh local authorities, as I am to authorities right across the United Kingdom.
My hon. Friend will be aware that Bridgend not only discounts or removes costs for children’s funerals, but has built a dedicated children’s area in the crematorium so that parents have a private place to go. Does she think that that is perhaps the next step for her campaign?
I would of course want that to happen and I will certainly campaign for that, but at this moment I just want the costs to be covered.
The action of some local authorities does not mean that the Government are off the hook. I urge the Secretary of State to speak to the Chancellor. He has the opportunity next Wednesday to do the right thing: take the message back that Wales is leading on this but that the Government now need to act in the same spirit and establish a specific fund that can be drawn on by local authorities to allow them to waive fees for children’s funerals.
In conclusion, there are many things in Wales from which I derive pleasure and pride. We are a strong nation with a good heart and we always want to do the right thing, so I plead with the Secretary of State to take these messages back and to ask his Cabinet colleagues to do the right thing on children’s funerals: show compassion, show respect and show understanding.
Read the full debate here.