Still unrecognized – gay ‘widowhood’

I think of us as the four ‘widowers’. We were living with our gay partners for many years, caring for them till they died. Yet we are totally unrecognized in law, and by society as a whole.

Every time I fill in a form and have to put my marital status, I am flummoxed. What am I? Married – no, Divorced – no, Widowed – legally I’m not, Single – if I put ‘yes’ to this and ‘no’ to ‘widowed’ it is like denying my partner and our long relationship ever existed – I refuse to be so disloyal. In a Civil Partnership? No, we were never given this opportunity. I usually end up ticking the ‘widowed’ box, because that is how I feel.

The four of us, friends who went around together for years, are now ‘gay widowers’, totally unrecognized as such, with no children to show for our long gay ‘marriages’ and in most cases no ‘widower’s pensions’ either.

Many of us experienced great financial hardship when our partners died. These were not ‘fly-by-night’ relationships, we all met about the same time – in the 1960s or, in my case, in 1970. We lived with our partners till they died, in sickness and in health, looking after them when they got ill as they looked after us when we were poorly. All this counts for nothing in law. Our partners are invisible, our relationship unrecognized.

Frank and Lenny (together about 40 years), Brian and Noel (about 40 years together), Tom and Norman (about 30-odd years together), George and Tony (21 years together). Only Tom got a ‘widower’s’ pension when his partner died. The rest of us not only suffered bereavement, possible loss of the home we built together (all we have to show of our long ‘marriage’ apart from photos and things we bought together), and severe financial hardship.

When George died, I immediately told the local council housing department that the joint tenant had died. I was told: ‘Then you are living in the flat illegally’. That was it – no sympathy, no condolences, just threatened with eviction from the home we had built together. Had I been evicted, I think I’d have commited suicide. The home means so much to me, containing not only things we bought together, but precious collages on the walls which George spent hours doing. How DARE they say I was living there illegally. We’d paid our rent regularly in advance - I could now have bought the place with all the money George and I have given the council in rent since 1978 when we first became council tenants.

In the event the joint tenancy was transferred to me as the single tenant, but with strict conditions. I could not ever have another joint tenancy, even if I found another partner – he would be evicted if I died first. If my aging mother moves in so I can look after her, she would be evicted if I died first. Then they put my rent up! Not only was I immediately faced with double expenditure for everything – responsible for paying all the utility bills (George always insisted on paying half of these, even when he was unemployed) but my rent would have doubled  anyway simply because George wasn’t around to pay his half. Yet they had the audacity to put it up even higher because it was a ‘new tenancy’. Remember I’d had no financial help after George’s death – no ‘widower’s’ pensions, and unfortunately he died without any life insurance policy. We had made our simple home-made Wills to each other, which was a Godsend. At least nobody could raid the home we’d built up together and take things from it because George and I, in law, were not related. There was just enough money in his bank account to pay for his funeral.

When Noel died, Brian faced similar problems. They didn’t have a joint tenancy, and he was faced with eviction from the home he had lived in for about 40 years. He was in his 70s – he couldn’t cope with it all. In the event the private landlord let him stay, but he faced a massive rent increase. With no ‘widower’s’ pension and with almost everything in their home in the name of Noel or his family, Brian faced a bleak future. In the event Noel’s family let Brian keep the furniture, etc. which was in the flat, and eventually, after his £10,000 life-savings dwindled into a £4,000 bank overdraft, he got some financial help in the form of benefits.

Frank, like me, had come into an inheritance. This disqualifies us from any benefits in our old age. After Lenny died, Frank was allowed to keep their council flat for which they also had a joint tenancy, but after his rent and council tax are paid he has precisely £8 a week left out of his pension to live on. Frank is 75, and hasn’t had a holiday for years. Yet he was told by an official that not only was he not entitled to any benefits, but the money he inherited from an aunt could not be spent on a holiday, a car or some other luxury. It had to be kept in the bank so he could pay his rent and other expenses. Only when it was nearly all gone would he be entitled to benefits. If he spent some of it on a holiday or some little luxury, he would deny himself any benefits for a long while.

These are old-age pensioners, who have not only lost their life-partners, but who have either saved up for their retirement years, or luckily come into some inheritance to help them in their last years on Earth. Nobody in their old age should be forced to try and live on £8 a week and dip into their life-savings in order to survive. A decent pension of at least £100 a week after rent/council tax/mortgage payments should be guaranteed for everybody, and it should NOT be means tested.

I retire next month. Because I’ve taken early retirement to look after my 92 year old mother, I have to wait nearly 3 years to get my State pension. Even then it will be a struggle to pay the council rent and survive. For the next three years I’ll get about £92 a week pension from my present employer out of which I have to pay £114 rent plus council tax. So I have to dip into my savings just to pay the rent, let alone other living expenses. I could apply for financial help as a carer for looking after my mother, but any money I received would be deducted from her Attendance Allowance, so we’d be no better off. I’m not really complaining, as it was my decision to take early retirement, but certainly a ‘widower’s’ pension would have been a great help. Tom received his even whilst he was still working and earning a wage.

So there you have it, the story of four lonely old men, struggling in their old age to survive, totally unrecognized as ‘widower’s’ by society. Frank’s depression since losing Lenny last year is unrelieved – the counseling he has so far received was of little help. After all, as far as society is concerned we have ‘just’ lost a friend – why are we so upset, so devastated? We were not married, we haven’t lost a spouse.

 Oh yes we have, and it’s about time it was recognized in law. A new term should be created to describe those who have been in partnerships for long periods, living with their partners for 20, 30 or 40 years till they died, but unable to get married or form a civil partnership because the law didn’t allow it at the time. Some sort of ‘widower’s’ pension for us should also be provided by the State.

None of us feel able, at our age, after living so long with our life-partners, to enter into another live-in relationship. We are set in our ways, we have too many happy memories of our deceased partners, who many of us feel are still very much with us in spirit. Civil partnerships have therefore come too late for us. We are the ‘forgotten’ ones – gay men and women who have lost their life-partners, never got the opportunity to register our relationships as civil partnerships, and get no financial or other recognition for the fact that we lived with our partners for a lifetime, caring for them till they died.

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