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Benefit Rules For Terminally Ill People Could Face "Unacceptable" New Delays

3 min read

Suggestions that DWP Secretary Thérèse Coffey could delay reforms to benefit rules for terminally ill people yet again have been roundly condemned by medical charities.

They have warned many terminally ill people will not live long enough to see the long-awaited changes to benefits rules.

Under the current system, only those with six months or less to live are able to have their benefits claims fast-tracked, with others facing reviews every three years even if they have been diagnosed with a terminal illness.

Ministers had announced a review of the policy in summer 2019 following continued pressure from campaigners, charities and medics who described the treatment of terminally ill people as "barbaric" and "inhumane".

Earlier this year, DWP minister Justin Tomlinson had claimed the review had been "completed" after blaming the Covid pandemic delays, but speaking on Wednesday, Coffey hinted the changes could be delayed until after Parliament's summer recess.

Questioned about the change during a select committee session, she told MPs: "Like a lot of issues we are trying to bring together a policy situation to address the issue.

"I anticipate we will be able to hopefully update parliament before we rise for the summer. If not, as soon as possible thereafter about where we are heading with [the policy]."

Responding to the comments, Susie Rabin, head of policy and campaigns for the Motor Neurone Disease Association, said the potential delay was "wholly unacceptable".

"Two years after being promised a review into welfare benefits for people who are terminally ill, the message today from Therese Coffey is wholly unacceptable and deeply disappointing," she said.

"The MND Association, the people with motor neurone disease who we work with and the thousands of people in this country living with terminal illness do not need to hear vague words like 'anticipate', 'hopefully' and 'thereafter'.

"We've waited long enough – we need the review published and a guarantee of definitive action immediately. The inhumane rule that makes people prove they only have six months to live before being able to access the fast track process to benefits must be scrapped."

Earlier this year, campaigners called for an overhaul to the rules, including a commitment to scrap benefit reassesments for all people diagnosed with a terminal degenerative decision.

NHS consultants have hit out over the "unfair and inhumane" practice which sees DWP assessors questioning clinical judgements during benefit claims.

Mark Jackson, Marie Curie's England Policy Manager, said the comments from Coffey "beggars belief".

"Terminally ill people who have endured harrowing fights for benefits in their last months of life will be extremely disappointed to learn from Therese Coffey that they now may not hear any news until September. Tragically, many will not live to hear this announcement," he said.

"Ministers have already accepted that the 'six month rule' – which forces dying people to prove they have less than six months to live to get fast-tracked access to benefits – needs to be scrapped. We are told that the Government has concluded its review of the system; to delay for weeks and months longer beggars belief.

"All that further delay will accomplish is to force many more terminally ill people into a system that the Government accepts is unfit for purpose.

He added: "Terminally ill people need a clear timetable for reform now, before even more have to spend their last months fighting for the financial support they need, instead of making memories with their families and loved ones."

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