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Cross-party report demands changes to benefits system criteria after finding that the terminally ill 'face devastating and far reaching financial hardship'

By Staff Reporter

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Drew Hendry (left) chaired the group behind the report.
Drew Hendry (left) chaired the group behind the report.

A DAMNING report into the benefits system for terminally ill people contains a demand for changes to the existing “outdated” and “arbitrary” system.

Chaired by local MP, Drew Hendry, the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Terminal Illness found the current benefits rule that you must only have six months or less to live to get fast access to benefits is “not based on clinical reality”.

Mr Hendry set up the cross party group after hearing about experiences of terminally ill people making Universal Credit claims in the local area through his work with Macmillan CAB at Raigmore.

And the group's report into the system found that terminally ill people "face devastating and far reaching financial hardship and crippling debt", because of a "made-up policy fudge" invented three decades ago.

He said: “The policy is not only very hard on people living with terminal illnesses, it also causes a great deal of financial pressure and worry on their families at the very worst time in their lives.”

The report argued that information uncovered during the inquiry showed that the current ‘six-month rule’ definition of terminal illness, used extensively to determine how quickly someone gets access to benefits, was invented by politicians, and has no clinical evidence to support its use.

The ‘six-month rule’ was introduced into the benefits system in 1990 to exempt terminally ill people from having to wait to qualify for Attendance Allowance, a specific benefit which could only be accessed if someone was ill for a minimum of six months.

However, the six-month timescale was then extended arbitrarily to other benefits over time, as well as rules for accessing a terminal illness lump sum in pensions law. The report added that, consequently, the ‘six months rule’ became the benefits system’s definition of terminal illness by default.

Commenting on the report’s findings, Mr Hendry said: “The current rules seriously restrict access to vital financial support for many terminally ill people, whose condition will never improve and only deteriorate until they die, but who may live for longer than six months.

“Terminally ill people across all nations of the UK are being failed miserably by the Tory government. 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. That’s why we set up this cross party group and why we are calling on the minister to scrap this rule.

“I am very proud of the work Marie Curie and the APPG have done to highlight the impact the six-month rule has on those who are terminally ill, but who may live longer than six months and thank everyone who took time to submit evidence to our inquiry. I hope that the minister will now give serious consideration to our report findings and commit to ending this arbitrary six-month rule.”

Under its new welfare powers, the Scottish Government will remove the six-month condition for Personal Independence Payments 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, an end to the outsourced assessment system.

However, the Scottish Government does not have this power to make these changes to rules around Universal Credit which remains reserved to the UK parliament.

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