Following landmark legislation announced in Northern Ireland, a charity has lambasted the “snail’s pace” of change at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), which will see terminally ill people in England and Wales fall foul of a two-tier benefits system for the dying.
Ministers in Stormont announced compassionate reforms to the benefits system this week, which will help people with terminal illness access welfare support if their clinicians say they may not survive for 12 months.
In contrast, people in England and Wales will have to attend demeaning assessments, face long delays and mountains of paper work to access support, despite being at the end of their lives, unless they can prove they have, at most, six months to live.
This is despite a cross-party parliamentary report, which found the “six month rule” to be cruel, and despite doctors saying that it is not possible to accurately predict survival for the terminally ill.
Mark Jackson, Policy and Public Affairs Manager at Marie Curie, said:
“Today’s decision is perhaps the biggest deviation in welfare policy between the Northern Ireland Assembly and Westminster in history. It is clear that Assembly members support the need to care for dying people in our communities. Quite frankly, who wouldn’t.”
“Nearly two years ago we welcomed a DWP review into how the benefits system treats dying people. Sadly, the snail’s pace of change at the DWP means that review hasn’t seen the light of day. The heart-breaking thing for dying people is that it is finished and is gathering dust somewhere in Westminster. The Prime Minister and the DWP need to look at the compassionate changes that are being made in the devolved nations, they need to pull their fingers out and act to level the playing field for dying people now. Each day they delay, 10 people die without the financial support they need and are entitled to.”
MND Association’s Head of Policy and Campaigns Susie Rabin said:
“This new ruling is really positive news for those people in Northern Ireland who need fast and sensitive access to vital support from the welfare system. However, there is now a real disparity in access to benefits across the United Kingdom for people with terminal illness. This needs changing now to ensure no one has to suffer the indignity of a long, drawn out claims process.
“We have been waiting two years for the publication of the review into benefits for people who are terminally ill – that’s two years in which people have been dying without the financial support they desperately need. We need the Department for Work and Pensions to act right now, publish the review and scrap the outdated and frankly inhumane six-month rule.”
The Scottish Government has already changed the law with new rules due to start to come into force later this year.
The end of life charity, Marie Curie, and the Motor Neurone Disease Association, have been campaigning to scrap the six month rule. They have said the pace of change within the DWP will mean more people in England and Wales will die without vital financial aid.
They are calling on the DWP to publish its review and make changes to the laws in England and Wales that the public, clinicians and MPs have all said needs to change.
In July 2019 the Secretary of State at the time, Amber Rudd, launched a review into the benefits system for terminally ill people. This followed the #Scrap6Months campaign from Marie Curie and the Motor Neurone Disease Association.
Data obtained from the DWP shows that 10 people a day die in England and Wales waiting for a decision on their benefits application. Furthermore, the charities recently exposed that 100 people a month are rejected by the welfare system and die within six months.