Thousands of people who have diagnosed with a terminal illness are struggling to access the vital benefits support that could help alleviate stress, anxiety and financial worries in the final months of life, new research suggests.
End of life charities say the current welfare system has become “overly complex and stressful”, with many people at the end of life forced to navigate a cruel and confusing system in order to gain access to vital social security benefits for themselves and their families.
People who have diagnosed with a terminal illness and told they have just months to live are typically fast-tracked through the benefit application process to ensure they can access emergency financial support in the form of sickness and disability benefits.
However, current rules mean that those who are told they are nearing the end of their life are expected to provide medical proof that they aren’t expected to live for more than six months.
The UK Government has promised to extend the minimum life expectancy from six months to twelve months, but critics argue that proposed reforms are unclear and are taking too long to implement.
Campaigners have called on the UK Government to scrap the arbitrary six month “rule” and instead accept the bleak prognoses of medical practitioners, whilst adding that noone should be pushed into poverty and hardship at the end of their lives.
Susie Rabin, head of policy and campaigns at the Motor Neurone Disease Association charity, said: “Frankly, the Special Rules for Terminal Illness process doesn’t work for some people.
“It’s a real challenge for people with Motor Neurone Disease (MND).
“MND is very unpredictable which makes it very, very hard for a clinician to give a prognosis and that makes it very hard for people with MND to access benefits through the special rules route.
“One third of people die within one year of diagnosis but it’s very difficult for an experienced neurologist to say how long a patient has left.”
Claimants can appeal DWP decisions where they feel a mistake has been made, but the appeals process is often long and arduous for those concerned. And can also pay a huge toll on their friends and loved-ones.
Dr Sam Royston, director of policy and research at the Marie Currie Cancer Trust, said: “If people are dying before their mandatory reconsideration then it is highly likely that they were living with a long-term or terminal illness and many of these people should have received fast-track access to support.
“This raises serious concerns about the DWP’s ability to recognise when a claimant is approaching the end of life and is in desperate need of support.
“It also highlights the importance of getting these application decisions right first time – the fact so many people are dying without support makes clear that people with terminal illnesses do not have time to wait.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “Terminal illness is devastating, and our priority is dealing with people’s claims quickly and compassionately.”