The UK Government has faced strong condemnation after it rejected a cross-party proposal to amend a controversial element of disability benefit legislation for terminally ill claimants, with one commentator describing the decision as “cruel” and unjustifiable.
Personal Independence Payment (PIP) claimants who have been told they have less than six months to live can be fast tracked through the application process, but critics argue that this policy is too restrictive and should be rescinded or amended.
The SNP Scottish Government has already brought forward new legislation to rescind the six month limit, and now politicians from other political parties are calling on the UK Government to do the same across the UK.
However, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has rejected the cross-party request, claiming the current system already provides sufficient levels of support for terminally ill PIP claimants.
Labour MP Madeleine Moon, whose husband died from motor neurone disease, gave an emotional speech in Parliament, calling for the law to be changed so that terminally ill patients don’t have to spend their last weeks of life worrying about how to pay household bills.
She told MPs: “I’ve talked to people who are worried about losing their homes, worried about how they’re going to pay fuel bills, how they’re going to provide food.
“It is a horrific worry because suddenly a future you had in front of you has disappeared.
“Inevitably you’re not able to work, so money becomes a big issue.
“Most people are desperate to spend what time they have left with their families – you’re not doing that if you’re facing face-to-face assessments or filling in complex forms.”
Her concerns have been echoed by MPs from other parties, who together argue that the arbitrary six month limit fails to recognise the difficulties faced by terminally ill people during their final months.
Sinn Féin Welfare Spokesperson Alex Maskey MLA said there could be “no justification for this cruel decision”, whilst adding that it “blatantly ignores the evidence from clinicians and claimants that this rule is adding further trauma to people who are already suffering grievously”.
Alex Maskey said: “PIP currently allows for applications to be fast-tracked without an assessment for claimants with a terminal illness who have a life-expectancy of no more than six months.
“However, the evidence shows that this time period is much too restrictive and should be extended to all those facing a terminal illness.
“Therefore, the five main parties here made a joint request calling on the British Government to scrap the six-month time restriction.
“We have just received the response from the Department for Work and Pensions and it is deeply disappointing that they are standing over the six-month timeframe.
“I believe there can be no justification for this cruel decision as it blatantly ignores the evidence from clinicians and claimants that this rule is adding further trauma to people who are already suffering grievously.
“It is for this reason that the Scottish parliament has already introduced new legislation to rescind the six-month limit and we will continue to lobby for the same to happen here.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “We’re determined to ensure that people living with terminal illnesses get the support they need through this difficult time.
“People who are terminally ill can get their claim fast-tracked, automatic access to benefits and, for those claiming ESA or Universal Credit, have their work-related requirements waived.”