Secretary of State for Work and Pensions calls for review of benefits for terminally ill people

Categories: Care, Featured, and Policy.

Amber Rudd, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, has confirmed today that she has asked the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to set up a fresh evaluation of the way the benefits system supports terminally ill people.

Citing her own personal experiences, the Work and Pensions Secretary has asked the DWP to set up a thorough evaluation of how the benefits system is supporting people nearing the end of their life and those with severe conditions. She 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 people who are nearing the end of their life get better support and get it speedily.

“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.

“I want people to have confidence in what we do at the DWP as no one should be suffering unnecessary hardship at this especially difficult time.”

For those living with the most severe or progressive conditions, benefit processes have recently been made simpler, moving them out of unnecessary reassessments.

The Work and Pensions Secretary wants to make sure that these processes are working effectively and to see if more can be done to improve the Department’s interaction with claimants living with the most severe conditions.

Yesterday she visited the Macmillan Cancer Support horizon centre in Brighton to begin conversations with stakeholders, and today she will host a number of Charities to the DWP to discuss these issues, including Macmillan and Hospice UK.

The DWP’s work will include three strands of research:

  • Hearing directly from claimants through their representatives and charities about their experiences through roundtables and meetings.
  • Examining international evidence to look at how other nations support people who are terminally ill or living with a severe condition
  • Reviewing current DWP performance to understand how the Special Rules for Terminal Illness (SRTI), and Severe Conditions processes operate and perform

Amber Rudd will also seek senior medical input to inform this work. Professor Bee Wee, National Clinical Director for End of Life Care for NHS England is attending Thursday’s roundtable.

Around 500,000 people die in England each year and around three-quarters of those deaths are expected – they are not sudden or unexpected. Additionally there are many more people who are living with severe or progressive health conditions.

Commenting in response to Amber Rudd’s announcement, Jonathan Ellis, Director of Advocacy and Change at Hospice UK, said:

“The benefits system is simply not working for terminally ill people and those facing end of life and is instead subjecting many people and their families to untold financial hardship and emotional distress, so we welcome this new evaluation aimed at taking a fresh and candid look at how support is provided and what needs to change.

“We applaud the Secretary of State’s leadership in championing this issue and taking this important step to ensure that terminally ill people receive better support in future. We hope this evaluation will take a wide-ranging view of the concerns raised by terminally ill people and look at their different experiences of using the benefits system.

“It is imperative that terminally ill people get faster and fairer access to financial support as a matter of course and without facing unnecessary and upsetting delays due to red tape. We look forward to working with the DWP as it undertakes this important and timely evaluation.”

Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of Marie Curie, said:

“We welcome the review announced by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) today.  However, the DWP statement does not make it clear that you can only have your benefit fast-tracked if you have six months or less to live.

“Our campaign with Motor Neurone Disease Association has highlighted too many incidents of terminally ill people being denied fast-track access to benefits because they can’t prove they meet the arbitrary rule of having six months or less to live.  It is vital that their voices are heard in this process.

“While it is encouraging that the DWP is looking at international best practice, this is also an opportunity for the Government to turn the UK into a world leader in delivering compassionate and timely financial support to people who are dying.  It is vital that this opportunity be seized.

“However, the solution is a very simple one.  It is one that the Scottish government has already taken on board 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 focussed 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.”