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Dying people forced to wait for Universal Credit are turning to food banks

Thousands of people suffering from a terminal illness or disability or being forced to apply for Universal Credit, or risk the prospect of having to turn to food banks or high-cost creditors.

Figures obtained by the Huffington Post UK reveal that thousands of people with terminal illnesses have been given little option but to apply for lifeline benefits through the Government’s ill-fated Universal Credit system.

The shocking figures, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, demonstrate how some of the most vulberable people in society are being coerced into requesting vital welfare support through a system that has been widely discredited by experts, charities, and others.

People with life-limiting illnesses, diseases, and disabilities, are having to resort to using food banks due the complexities they face when lodging a claim for Universal Claim.

Campaigners protest against government welfare changes. Photo: Paula Peters

Claimants with terminal illnesses should be fast-tracked through the process, but many feel bewildered or confused by the process and are resorting to food banks just to survive, while their claim is processed by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

The data reveals that 17,000 people answered “yes” when asked: “Have you been diagnosed with a terminal illness” on the digital application form between 2016 and 2018.

The same data also reveals that 31,000 UC claimants ticked the box asking to “discuss terminal illness” with a DWP work coach, suggesting that many more people with terminal illnesses are not being recognised in official statistics.

People with terminal illnesses are allegedly struggling to navigate the newly created ‘complex’ UC system, with some dying long before receiving any UC payments from the DWP.

Susie Rabin, head of policy at the Motor Neurone Disease Association, said: “The fundamental thinking behind Universal Credit is it’s a benefit trying to get people back to work – that’s the whole driving ethos behind it.

“That means that as a system, it really does not work well for people who are dying from a terminal illness, and who are moving out of work and not moving into work.”

One woman, simply named as Mel (not her real name), said: “I have been blocked every way possible from claiming the relevant benefits.

“Many consultants don’t want to say ‘you only have six months to live’, particularly when you are 40 with three children.

“I was a teacher but I am now jobless and in considerable debt and have been turned down from the council food bank. I honestly feel desperate.

“There is no way out and I can’t even afford to attend my hospital appointments, including chemo.

“Benefit reform was not meant for me surely?”, she said. “A painful, hard life is made worse by Universal Credit.”

Photo Credit: Vince Laws

Mel added that despite of the supposed fast-track system for people with terminal illnesses she was still affected by the minimum five-week-wait for UC.

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According to the Huffington Post, peope who have been told by doctors that they aren’t expected to live more than six months. the time frame used by the DWP when considering if a person should be fast-tracked through the claim process, have also been hit by delays to payments.

Madeleine Moon MP (Labour) said it was “beyond belief” that dying people are being made to wait for UC payments.

Caroline Hodgson, a Macmillan care worker specialising in palliative care, said that a women with advanced cancer “took two-and-a-half hours to complete the online Universal Credit claim”.

“A couple of weeks later she had a call from a work coach to ask what jobs she can do, despite the fact that she’s very ill. She already has a job, and is only not working because she can’t.

“She finds speaking on the phone difficult because she struggles to breathe and talk due to her cancer.

“When she asked the work coach if they could speak to her sister who was with her, they said they couldn’t.

“She said she found the whole process so distressing.”

Tom Cottam, head of policy and influence at the Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “The government must change the rules to make it easier for people to get support to apply for Universal Credit from friends, family or services like Macmillan.

“Home visits should be guaranteed for anyone who needs one, such as those with a terminal illness, and the five-week wait for the first payment should be removed, to avoid people with cancer being put at risk of debt and hardship.”

A DWP spokesperson said: Terminal illness is devastating, and our priority is dealing with people’s claims quickly and compassionately.

“That’s why we guarantee entitlement to benefits, waive the need for face-to-face assessments and continue to work closely with charities to improve access to support.

“With Universal Credit no one has to wait five weeks to be paid as your first payment is available as an advance on day one.

“Additional digital support is available, home visits can be arranged and our Help to Claim partnership with Citizens Advice provides further tailored support.”

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