Richard Harrington MP entered Parliament in his early 50’s in 2010 winning Watford from the Labour incumbent. Richard had spent many years involved in politics as a secondary interest to his work primarily in Property development. His interest in politics and connection to the Conservative Party began whilst at Oxford University in the mid 1970’s. In September 2015 David Cameron promoted Richard into a newly created post of Under Secretary of State for Syrian Refugees. For reasons that are very hard to understand this post was abolished in July 2016 by the new Prime Minister Theresa May and she moved Richard to the post of Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Pensions. In this role he was involved in explaining to Parliament on Thursday about the Governments plans for a reform of the state aid offered to people who have suffered a bereavement. This was because another Minister was unable to do so. However Richard is responsible for what he said. It is unclear where Richard’s idea of fairness emerged but as a Jew he will be very familiar with the teaching from the book of Shemot (or Exodus in the Old Testament)
“Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword”
This is just one of the references to widows and orphans in these scriptures and it should give Richard and his Government a guide to understand that the way they care for people who have lost a partner or a parent helps to mark out their government as being civilised and enlightened. As this speech makes clear, the Government are unwilling to comply with an approach that is consistent with such care and concern and instead are focused on making savings compared to the current arrangements.
The new bereavement support payment restores fairness to the system and focuses support just on that 18-month period after a loved one dies, when it is most needed. It is not taxed and will be subject to a disregard for income-related benefits, helping those on the lowest incomes the most. Widowed parents will no longer lose their benefits if they decide to remarry or repartner. We do not believe that the period of payment could or should be equivalent to the recovery period following spousal bereavement. I am sure most people would agree that that is a totally different amount of time….The right hon. Member for Birkenhead, the hon. Member for Walthamstow and other Members made a reasonably cynical, but well-made point about the changes to the bereavement benefit. They basically said that it was just an austerity measure, delivering savings of £100 million to the Treasury after two years. Over the first two years of the reform, we will actually spend an additional £45 million, but any savings, like in anything else in the public finances, will be for future Governments to reinvest as they choose. I therefore cannot undertake, as I have been asked, to ensure that savings are reinvested in this field.
Richard Harrington should be ashamed of himself for supporting these changes and instead of speaking up in favour of them he should have the integrity to go back to the drawing board. He is not a career politician and he should have the courage to listen to the other speakers in the debate he took part in and stand up to his Cabinet colleagues.