Benefits system for terminally ill people to be reviewed

The work and pensions secretary has announced a review of the benefits system for terminally ill claimants, in a challenge to the next prime minister to listen to demands for reform.

Amber Rudd, who is at risk of being reshuffled out of her cabinet job, laid down a marker on Thursday with the promise of a “fresh and honest evaluation” of the way the system supports terminally ill people.

Citing her own experiences, Rudd suggested there should be reform of the current process for those nearing the ends of their lives, whose benefits are subject to special rules for terminal illness (SRTI), which have come under heavy criticism from charities.

The rules mean that if a person is living with a terminal illness they can have their benefit claim fast-tracked and paid at an enhanced rate, but many charities, including Marie Curie, have campaigned for claimants not to have to prove that they have six months or less to live.

Rudd, whose ex-husband AA Gill died in 2016, said: “Having a life-limiting illness or severe condition can cause unimaginable suffering from the patient and for their loved ones. Having seen it in my own family I know that the last thing you need is additional financial pressures or unnecessary assessments.

“So that’s why today I am beginning work on a fresh and honest evaluation of our benefits system so that I can be sure that people who are nearing the end of their life get the best possible support.

“I hope that this comprehensive evaluation of how we treat those with severe conditions and terminal illnesses will help ensure these vulnerable people get the support they need from our benefits system.”

The system has been heavily criticised by charities for denying benefits in some cases to people who have died shortly afterwards and asking insensitive questions such as to name a date when they expect to die.

Announcing the review, Rudd’s department said the rules were often seen as favouring those living with cancer when other illnesses can also limit life. She said she wanted to look again to make sure that these processes were working effectively and to see if more could be done to improve engagement with the department for claimants living with the most severe conditions.

The review will involve three strands of research, including hearing from claimants and charities about their experiences, consideration of international evidence and an analysis of current performance. Rudd will also seek senior medical input to help shape the evaluation and review the evidence gathered.

About 500,000 people die in England each year, and there are now many more people who are living with severe or progressive health conditions.

Responding to the review, Matthew Reed, the chief executive of Marie Curie, said it was welcome but that the Department for Work and Pensions had not made it clear that a claimant could only have their benefit fast-tracked if it had been determined they had six months or less to live.

He said: “The solution is a very simple one. It is one that the Scottish government has already taken onboard in a new benefits law: that fast, easy access to benefits should be available to everyone a clinician says is terminally ill. People should not have to wait until a clinician thinks they only have six months left to live.

“The review must be focused and quick and the government in turn must act at pace when the review is concluded. Time is crucial for dying people. Every day 10 people die while waiting for the benefits they need.”


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