Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd MP has today ordered the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to carry out a review into how the benefits system supports people with terminal illnesses.
Special Rules for those with a terminal illness mean they can be fast tracked through the benefits assessment process, but this only applies where claimants are not expected to live longer than six months.
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.
Amber Rudd said: “Having a life limiting illness or severe condition can cause unimaginable suffering for 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 are getting 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, ensuring no one is suffering unnecessary hardship at this especially difficult time.”
However, the review has not been given a time limit and may never actually be completed, especially if Ms Rudd is replaced as Work and Pensions Secretary by the next Conservtaive Party leader and PM. That is unless her successor agrees to take up the mantle and continue with the review.
Amber Rudd’s announcement follows the publication of a recent report from the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Terminal Illness, which described the six month rule as “outdated, arbitrary and not based on clinical reality”.
An inquiry found that the current system has left many terminally ill people and their families in severe financial hardship and crippling debt, and called on the UK government to scrap the sim month rule.
Drew Hendry MP, Chair of the APPG, 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.
“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 DWP’s assessment processes for those with a terminal illness were also heavily criticised for being “overly-time consuming, demeaning and insensitive”.
One bereaved husband told the inquiry: “My wife was terminally ill for over three years – we effectively lost everything we ever worked for and I am now left with debts of over £20,000.”
Marsha de Cordova MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Disabled People, said: “It is welcome the Tories are finally acknowledging that their ‘six-month rule’ is cruel, arbitrary and outdated, but we do not need a review to know it should be scrapped.
“The longer the government delays, the more needless suffering and anxiety is inflicted on ill and disabled people with terminal illnesses.
“Shamefully, between 2013 and 2018, 17,000 terminally ill people died while waiting for a decision on their Personal Independence Payment claims.
“This means people spent their last days waiting for the outcome of a cruel assessment without the financial support they needed.
“The government must now adopt a definition of terminal illness based on sound clinical judgements and scrap all unnecessary assessments for terminally ill people.”