War Widows’ Pension continued to be taxed at 50% after the end of the Second World War in 1945. Members of Parliament raised the issue of widows’ pensions again and again, criticising both the low amount paid and its high taxation. But it was not until widows took matters into their own hands as a group that the taxation of their pension was reduced and eventually abolished completely.
In 1971, Laura Connolly, a British war widow who returned from Australia – where war widows’ pensions were tax-free – refused to pay tax and called on British war widows to stand together and take action, resulting in the founding of the War Widows’ Association of Great Britain (WWA) a year later. After incessant campaigning, the tax was reduced to 25% in 1976, and it was eventually lifted completely under Margaret Thatcher in 1979.
Yet, there were still significant differences in war widows’ pensions, most notably between women who lost their husbands before the introduction of the Social Security Act (1973) and those who were widowed after. The act meant that those women widowed after 1975 would benefit from the new Armed Forces Pension scheme, which gave them a Forces Family Pension in addition to their War Widows’ Pension, providing their husband had died in service or as a consequence of it. It was not until 1990 that this disparity was addressed through a Ministry of Defence supplementary pension.
Until November 2014, some widows and widowers who had lost their spouse in military service between 1973 and 2005 stopped receiving survivor’s pension if they remarried, formed a civil partnership, or cohabited with a new partner. By getting the government to address this issue, the WWA achieved its aim of parity of pensions for all war widows almost exactly a century after War Widows’ Pension had first been introduced.
Outside of the military, to this day, the law ceases to regard a woman as a widow once she enters into a new relationship that includes cohabitation, remarriage, or civil partnership with a new partner. In such cases, she is neither entitled to Widowed Parent’s Allowance nor Bereavement Allowance.
If you’d like to know more about war widows’ lives in post-war Britain, why not take a look at our Library, where you’ll find links to newspaper articles, paintings, autobiographies, and other sources from this period.