An unmarried mother from Northern Ireland who is fighting for access to a widowed parent’s allowance is to have her case heard by the Supreme Court.
Siobhan McLaughlin lived with her partner John Adams for 23 years and they had four children together, but the couple were never married.
Mr Adams died in 2014.
After his death, the County Antrim woman challenged the rule that parents must have married to be entitled to a widowed parent’s allowance.
Ms McLaughlin, from Armoy, won the original case but it was overturned by the Court of Appeal.
Senior appeal judges did not accept the argument that Ms McLaughlin had been discriminated against on the grounds of her marital status.
Next Monday, the Supreme Court will sit in Northern Ireland for the first time ever.
Ms McLaughlin’s case is due to be the first one heard by the court.
Speaking to BBC News NI, she said that John was a widower when they met and that his wife had asked him to promise not to remarry after she died.
“We didn’t see an issue, the commitment was the same,” she said.
“When we had children they took his surname and his name is on the birth certificates. It was a family unit.”
Ms McLaughlin said she felt “angry” when she learned her family would not qualify for the bereavement benefits.
She said: “My youngest was 10 when this happened, another 10-year-old in her class whose parents were married could get that benefit – but she couldn’t.”
It is estimated the family have lost out on thousands of pounds because Siobhan and John were not married or in a civil partnership before his death.
Ms McLaughlin is now the sole provider for her family and works two jobs as a special needs classroom assistant and cleaner.
She said the money provided by the widowed parent’s allowance would have been useful to her family.
“It’s little things like, ‘Right, let’s scoot down to the coast here and get an ice cream just to go and clear our heads. That’s right I can’t, I just don’t have enough fuel in the car because I need it for work’,” she said.
“I’m not looking for extravagance, it just would have made life slightly bearable at such a bad time for them.
“How dare anyone say that my children are worth less just because we weren’t married.”
‘Children worth less’
On what she hopes to achieve from the Supreme Court hearing, Ms McLaughlin said: “Obviously we want to win, there’s no doubt about it.
“But even if we don’t win it’s made people more aware of it and somebody has to come up behind me to fight this corner.
“And if they also fail there will be a next person, and a next person, but I hope it stops with me.
“When I look at my children I think, ‘how dare anyone treat them differently – they are as good as anybody else’s children’.
“It’s hard to think that a government is saying they’re actually worth less, their bereavement is worth less – and that’s not fair, it’s not on.”
Ms McLaughlin said she and her late partner believed that cohabiting brought them the same rights as marriage.
“The benefits system is an absolute minefield and, unless you know it, you’re not aware of it,” she said.
“If it hadn’t been brought to my attention by Citizens Advice, there’s no way I would have been any the wiser to this.
“This is 2018. I get why people marry, but I don’t see if you don’t marry, why you should be crucified for it, why it should go against you.
“You’re contributing to society regardless, you’re paying your tax and national insurance, just as you are married or unmarried.
“If we had of been aware of it, and that was then your reason to marry, well that’s very cynical.
“It’s shallow if that would be your reason to marry, to be entitled to a benefit that really you should be getting anyway.”
Ms McLaughlin’s solicitor Laura Banks said the case could have UK-wide ramifications.
“We say it is neither fair nor lawful that Siobhan’s children – or indeed any child – should be turned down for support when they need it most because of the marital status of their parents,” she said.
“They should not be forced into poverty at a time of bereavement.
“Their loss is exactly the same and the idea that they aren’t eligible for assistance on grounds of their birth status is cruel and unjust.
“The case opens wider debate about how we as society treat our most vulnerable, particularly children, and about whether we want to turn our backs on a section of society, over something they have had no choice in.
“We are hopeful that this case brings an end to this almost Victorian discrimination and positively impacts many children throughout the UK.”