The benefits system for terminally ill people is to be reviewed after charities said it was not fit for purpose in a damning report.
Claimants near the end of their lives deserve “a fresh and honest evaluation” of the system, Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd said after a parliamentary review.
She said nobody should be suffering “unnecessary hardship” after charities told MPs the struggle to access benefits was making people’s lives a “total misery”.
The Government’s definition of terminal illness as when a person’s death can be reasonably expected within six months was dubbed “outdated, arbitrary and not based on clinical reality” by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Terminal Illness (APPG) in their report last week.
The six-month rule, introduced into law 30-years ago, means that terminally ill people expected to live longer than half a year are missing out on having their benefits claims fast-tracked and simplified under special rules for terminal illness.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) was criticised for its “overly time-consuming, demeaning and insensitive” processes, and the report noted instances of department officials overturning and challenging clinicians’ judgments.
Ms Rudd said experiences within her own family had shown her that the last thing people nearing the end of their lives need is “financial pressures or unnecessary assessments”.
She continued: “So that’s why 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. I want people to have confidence in what we do at the DWP and no one should be suffering unnecessary hardship at this especially difficult time.”
The Marie Curie charity welcomed the announcement but said the DWP had not been clear that only those with six months or less to live had access to fast-tracked benefits.
Chief executive Matthew Reed said: “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.”
He added: “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.”
Last week’s report said some doctors were struggling to accurately predict how long patients had left, particularly for people with non-cancer conditions. It also found some doctors feared patients may be negatively impacted by learning they were expected to live less than half a year and recommended that the six-month rule be scrapped.