David Drew MP backs the #Scrap6Months campaign for those living with terminal illness
Since the Conservative Government’s introduction of Universal Credit, more than 17,000 people suffering from a progressive terminal illness have had to undergo a work-focused assessment as part of their application for financial support. This is simply unacceptable and why I am proudly supporting the #Scrap6Months campaign initiated by the Marie Curie Trust and the Motor Neurone Disease (MND) Association.
I have dealt with a number of heartbreaking cases in the Stroud constituency in which persons suffering from progressive illness have been subjected to assessment after assessment in spite of the fact that their diagnosis is terminal. Among these cases was a man diagnosed with terminal stage four cancer who - in spite of his diagnosis - was subjected to repeated assessments and in one of these, upwards of a year after his initial terminal diagnosis, he was declared fit for work.
I firmly believe that anyone living with a progressive terminal illness should be able to claim benefits without having to endure this drawn-out, stressful and undignified process.
The Special Rules for Terminal Illness (SRTI) are supposed to ensure that terminally ill people do not have to go through a long and stressful assessment process. However, at present, the SRTI require a 'reasonable expectation of death within six months' which excludes anyone with a lifelong, progressive or unpredictable terminal illness such as MND unless they have a diagnosis of six months or less to live.
I have written to the Amber Rudd MP, the Secretary of State for the DWP, in support of the #Scrap6Months campaign, highlighting the experiences of the assessment process endured by the constituent I spoke of above, and urging the government to change the law immediately to move away from the 6 months definition towards a decision made by a clinician.
Here is the text of my letter:
Re: Personal Independence payments for those with chronic/progressive illnesses
I am writing on behalf of the great many constituents suffering from progressive, degenerative and terminal illnesses who are being forced to attend work assessments if they are expected to live for more than six months.
I was visited recently by a constituent with terminal cancer, he attended a surgery not only to make representation for himself but for all those living with a progressive or degenerative illness from which they will not recover. Too many of those with progressive degenerative illnesses see themselves forced into work because of the controversial life expectancy rules implemented by your department.
My constituent was given a terminal diagnosis years ago, however under the Department for Work and Pensions definition of what constitutes an illness as ‘terminal’ he was considered ineligible to access fast-track benefit payments through the ‘Special Rules’ route. Quite frankly, the arbitrary definition of a person being ‘terminally ill’ only if said person’s death from a progressive disease can reasonably be expected within 6 months is inhumane and out of sync with professional opinion.
In April 2016, my constituent was given the terminal diagnosis of Stage 4 Metastatic Renal Cancer by his oncologist – an expert medical professional – yet in April 2017 one of the assessors employed by your department declared him to be fit for work. Hearing a clearly dying man describe how he has been forced to work whilst having to endure constant pain and discomfort, headaches, seized up joints and being unable to lift and carry like before is heartbreaking.
Surely, it must have been clear to the assessor that my constituent was unfit for work when he had been certified as such by doctors as early as 2015. In light of such evidence, claiming that these ‘Special Rules’ for terminal illness are compassionate – as one of your spokespeople has claimed – misses the point entirely.
Doctors are quite clear in saying that it is impossible to predict a patient’s prognosis and therefore a patient’s exact life expectancy, as well as highlighting that doing so is not in the best interests of the patient. Dr Catherine Millington-Sanders, the Marie Curie end of life lead at the Royal College of General Practitioners, has stated that ‘the only thing we can be certain of from a clinical perspective is what the diagnosis is, how this will impact their life, and if they’ll benefit from support’.
For people living with a degenerative terminal condition, the current legislation is completely inappropriate. If we take, for example, persons suffering from Motor Neurone Disease, then the evidence indicates that 50% of sufferers will die within two years of their diagnosis, yet according to DWP figures, around 55% of claimants with MND are forced to navigate the standard application process for disability benefits.
As I am sure you are aware, assessment can take several months and involve a work-focused interview in a job centre in which an assessor with no medical qualifications could potentially declare a terminally ill person to be fit for work. Sadly, more than 17,000 people suffering from a terminal illness have had to undergo such an assessment as part of their application for Universal Credit. The fact that an assessor – usually without any basic medical knowledge or training – is given jurisdiction to deem a dying person fit for work in the face of expert opinion to the contrary, is simply unacceptable.
Taking this into account, it is my firm belief that no one with a terminal diagnosis – as defined by their doctor and not by Section 82 (4) of the Welfare Reform Act 2012 – should be made to undergo a work capability assessment. This view is supported by medical professionals, with 73% of neurologists supporting replacing the six month requirement with one based on clinical judgement in an independent poll carried out by Medeconnect.
The Marie Curie Cancer Trust and the Motor Neurone Disease Association are just some of the groups who have called for doctors to be given the final decision on what constitutes a terminal diagnosis rather than the strict definition outlined above. I want to register my support for their scrap 6 months campaign and I call on the department to recognise and implement their suggestions as a matter of urgency.
David Drew MP