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In a move that ministers say will stop bereaved parents from becoming too dependent on state hand-outs, ministers have revealed new plans to motivate future widows to go back to work or get remarried, by sending them on tours of duty to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan instead.

The announcement comes at the same time as the government has revealed drastic cuts in the number of front-line serving soldiers from 102,000 to 82,000 as well as plans to cut benefit payments to widows with children by as much as £4,000 a year.

Lord Freud, the welfare reform minister, said changing the rules to stop future widows becoming too dependent on state hand-outs, rather than being motivated to desperately search for anyone who would agree to marry them so they and their children didn’t starve, was the most humane way of dealing with the problem of excess numbers of widows and their children clogging up the system:

Losing a spouse or civil partner is a life changing event emotionally, socially and economically, so it’s really important that widows are given the opportunity to choose between serving their country on the front-line in far-flung places like Afghanistan – along with their children – or finding a man who would be happy to take them off our hands instead. Obviously a third choice would be to start looking for a job the day after their husband’s funeral, but seeing as we’ve made such a mess of the economy that there are no longer any jobs available that’s not really a realistic option.

Under the current system, more than 40,000 British people sign up for “bereavement” benefits every year after the death of a spouse, and ministers believe the current system does not create enough incentives for widows to marry again or help in the fight against insurgents – particularly in the unstable border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan – so they are changing the rules for new recipients.

Lord Freud also said widows should be supported “back into mainstream army life and helped back into the labour market after a suitable time of recovery after their bereavement – for example about 3 days or so.”

A government spokesperson revealed the thinking behind the new policy:

We were originally thinking of replacing the soldiers we’re throwing on the dole with unemployed teenagers employed by G4S on workfare schemes, but after their Olympics omni-shambles, we’ve decided widowed parents and their children would do a much better job of fighting the Taliban instead.

The Department of Work and Pensions said the plans were likely to save hundreds of millions of pounds in years to come as all new widows are shifted on to short-term deployments of front-line combat rather than long-term benefits.


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