An unmarried mother from Northern Ireland who won a Supreme Court case this day a year ago allowing her to claim a widowed parent’s pension has spoken of her anger that the law has still not been changed.
Siobhan McLaughlin, from Armoy, Co. Antrim, took her fight to the highest court in the UK after being refused the allowance because she and her late partner John Adams had not been married or in a civil partnership.
Mr Adams, the father of their children Stuart, Lisa, Billy and Rebecca, died of cancer in January 2014.
The couple had been together for 23 years, but Ms McLaughlin had to take on an evening job after being refused a widowed parent’s allowance by the Northern Ireland Department for Communities.
Ms McLaughlin initially won a case after claiming unlawful discrimination based on her marital status, but that ruling was later overturned by the Court of Appeal.
A year ago today, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Ms McLaughlin, but said it was up to the government whether or how to change the law, something that has not happened.
“I feel like the government still class my children and children like them that aren’t born into marriage, as irrelevant,” says Ms McLaughlin.
“It saddens me to think of all the children who, just like mine, are being treated like they are worth less than children of married parents.
“They are being denied support when they need it most, and all those parents going through what I did, the shock and shame of learning that their children are going to lose out and then the stress and worry of having to make ends meet as well as coping with loss of my partner.”
In a statement, the Department for Work and Pensions said that work in the area was ongoing. “We are actively considering options following the ruling,” a spokesperson said.
“We are committed to supporting people during bereavement and have widened the support available. This is in addition to help provided for cohabiting couples through the wider welfare system.”
Ms McLaughlin’s solicitor, Laura Banks, from Francis Hanna & Co in Belfast, said: “We know that the current system is outdated. It is not fit for purpose and urgently needs reform.
“It is unacceptable and shameful that we now have a government continuing to discriminate against children with this archaic policy, a year after the Supreme Court has held that doing so is unlawful.”
Ms Banks says that thousands of other parents across the UK are affected by the legal limbo created by the lack of action.
Siobhan McLaughlin insists that she remains optimistic legislation will be drawn up, and has urged the government to treat children of cohabiting parents as equal to those born in wedlock.