Shamefully, many more dying people are refused support despite claiming under special rules for the terminally ill.
The data, which was obtained from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), shows that in an 18-month period, 1,860 people (around 100 a month) had their claim for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) rejected and died within six months of making the claim.
In the same period, a further 280 dying people were rejected by the DWP, despite them claiming under rules specifically designed to get fast-track support to terminally ill people.
Furthermore, the charity says that thousands of people are experiencing added stress at the hands of the DWP and that many spend their final weeks of life either fighting for support or dying without any.
Marie Curie and the Motor Neurone Disease Association have been campaigning to improve the benefits system for dying people and to scrap the “six month rule” which states people must prove they have six months or less to live before accessing fast-track support.
The charities, along with a parliamentary report, say these rules are arbitrary, out-dated and amount to cruelty toward some of the most vulnerable people in society.
Nearly two years ago, the charities welcomed a DWP review into these issues. However, despite that review having been completed, the findings are being withheld. In this time, as many as 2,000 people in the last six-months of their lives have had a benefits claim rejected.
Helena Reynolds (aged 60, from Essex) was visited by a DWP Assessor in her home when she was moved from one benefit, Disability Living Allowance (DLA), to PIP. Despite being terminally ill, and with a doctor’s letter to prove it, she had her benefits cut:
“The Assessor didn’t recognise that I was terminally ill,” she said. “He didn’t want to see the doctor’s letters, the consultant’s letter or the letter from the hospice. He didn’t want to know. I have Crohn’s Disease, osteoporosis, brittle bone disease and intestinal failure.
“I have been receiving end of life support from a hospice but had to cancel my other care after the review as I couldn’t afford to pay for it. I was forced to appeal and only then did I receive a higher rate.
“I’m going to be reviewed again for Universal Credit soon. This is so stressful. I don’t sleep at night. I worry about having my benefits cut. I don’t know how I’m going to cope. I don’t know how I’m going to pay my bills, pay my rent and buy the food that I need to survive. I shouldn’t have to be going through this.
“Terminally ill people shouldn’t be judged by these assessors who aren’t medically trained. My doctors should be listened to and trusted – they’re not though and people like me suffer as a result.”
Mark Jackson, Policy and Public Affairs Manager at Marie Curie said: “As this data shows, the DWP is clearly having problems identifying people who need their help.
“When somebody is diagnosed with a terminal illness a DWP benefits assessor is not well placed to judge how long they have left to live.
“The current law plunges dying people into uncertainty – they know they are dying but because they do not know how long they have left they can’t access financial support quickly.
“It is vital that we treat dying people with dignity and don’t put barriers up in front of them based on outdated arbitrary rules that, for many, are impossible to satisfy.
“Whilst we welcome the UK Government’s commitment to review the system, more than 2,000 people have had a claim rejected and then died within six months since the review was announced nearly two years ago. Ministers need to act now.”
MND Association’s Head of Policy and Campaigns Susie Rabin said: “It’s almost two years since people with MND – and others who are living with a terminal illness – were promised a proper review of the benefits system that has left so many of them struggling financially at the most difficult time of their lives.
“The publication of the review is well overdue and people are still struggling and suffering. It’s not good enough.
“We need the Government to publish the review immediately and make the changes to the system that are so desperately needed.”