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The government is failing miserably to look after those who most need our help

4 min read

SNP MP Drew Hendry writes ahead of his Adjournment debate today on 'Universal credit and terminal illness.

Imagine the moment a person hears, from their doctor, that they are terminally ill. In that instant nothing for them or their families will ever be the same again.
In one fateful moment, their entire world changes.
Suddenly, priorities shift and they become acutely aware of every second as it passes.
Terminal Illness affects so many families in our communities and the very least they should expect when asking for help from a Government, is support that is prompt and sympathetic to their situation.   
The trouble is, it’s not.
Instead thousands of terminally ill people fighting the UK Government right now for fair financial support in their dying days. 
Even corporate insurance companies pay out life insurance on the prognosis of, or illnesses linked with terminally illness - no ifs, no buts.
My constituency was one of the first to have Universal Credit rolled out. From the Pilot through to rollout of Live Service, it has been an utter shambles. Along with advocacy groups, the third sector, the local Council, we have raised the issues time and time again over the past three years.  People with terminal illnesses have been one such group of people to suffer because of these changes. 
Like those with less than six months to live who have been asked to meet with a job coach to justify their unemployment, because guidelines around forms are unclear.  
Or others who have received a letter advising them that they no longer qualify for a mobility car to get around, despite being unable to walk unaided or unassisted coupled with a condition that is only going to worsen. 
Or the people left with a devastating cut to their income, because of the removal of the Severe Disability Premium. Without any change in their diagnosis, these people are left around £2000 a year worse off. 
The sad reality is, these people won’t even live a year as the definition of terminally ill means predicts a life expectancy of fewer than 6 months. 
And why have an arbitrary time of 6 months to live attached to the status of the terminally ill? It’s a timescale that means nothing to people like those suffering Motor Neurone Disease – a degenerative condition with no cure or hope of improvement. 
Then there are those on Universal Credit who have lost the right to not to know they are dying. Instead they are forced to complete the forms which force them to answer the question - effectively saying “Yes, I’m dying”. Prior to the introduction of Universal Credit, an advocacy could do this on their behalf – what possible reason would there be to remove this right? 
Can you imagine facing all this stress, in the last months of your life? At a time when you and your family should be cherishing every moment together. For many, jumping through the welfare hoops to get financial support isn’t an option, it is a necessity to keep the roof over their head.
In Scotland, with the small number of welfare powers that have been devolved, we are instead choosing to put dignity and respect at the heart of our policies. The SNP Scottish Government will remove the 6 months condition and will use the evidence of doctors and clinicians to assess whether or not someone is terminally ill. There will be an automatic right to advocacy and, crucially, an end to the outsourced assessment regime that has caused so much distress to the afflicted and their families. 
There can be no doubt this Tory Government is failing miserably to look after those who most need our help. It is incumbent on us all to do everything we can to change their lives in the time they have left, to a life of dignity. 

Drew Hendry is the SNP MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey


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