Widows in Northern Ireland to get payment uplift

Widows and bereaved partners in Northern Ireland are to receive annual payments following a review of the Northern Ireland Infected Blood Payment Scheme, it was announced today.

Health Minister Robin Swann said he had been moved by the suffering of non-infected bereaved partners and had decided to introduce yearly payments of 75 per cent of the annual payment that the recipient’s late spouse would have received. This will be backdated to 1 April 2020 and will continue “into future years”.

In a letter to campaigners informing them of his decision, Mr Swann told them he had received many letters from widows, who account for about 17 of the 101 registered beneficiaries of the NI payment scheme. He said: “They have told me how they have had to make sacrifices throughout their lives and that they have felt overlooked in the past and left to struggle financially after their loved ones passed away.”

The announcement comes after a series of meetings with campaigners, including representatives from The Haemophilia Society, Haemophilia NI and Families and Friends of Haemophilia NI. In August 2020, Mr Swann introduced a permanent uplift to infected recipients of the NI Infected Blood Payment Scheme to bring it in line with payments in England.

Clive Smith, chair of The Haemophilia Society, said: “This marks an important moment in campaigning for widows in Northern Ireland. For too long, widows and partners have been the forgotten towers of strength in this tragedy. This announcement belatedly gives them the recognition they so richly deserve.”

Until today, widows and bereaved partners in NI received a one-off lump sum of £10,000 and were eligible for the annual winter fuel allowance of £540 and, if applicable, income top-ups. Mr Swann said that from April 2021 annual income top-ups will be stopped as a result of the new payment.

Mr Swann said he is continuing to review the NI payments scheme. He concluded: “I am committed to looking at other areas where reform may be required as I want to give fair and equal consideration to the needs of all who have suffered as a result of infected blood, recognising the devastating impact this has had on their lives.”

Currently in the UK, only widows in Scotland receive 75 per cent of their bereaved spouse’s annual payment indefinitely. In Wales this is offered for three years plus a one-off lump sum of £10,000. In England, bereaved partners receive a one-off lump sum of £10,000. Click here for a comparison of Infected Blood Support Schemes across the UK.

The Haemophilia Society and many other groups are calling for parity of financial support across the UK. You can find out more about our campaign here.

Today’s announcement comes as the Infected Blood Inquiry is investigating the trusts and schemes set up to support people infected and affected by the contaminated blood scandal.