Universal Credit and Terminal Illness

Part of Petition - Royal Bank of Scotland Closure in Nairn, Grantown and Aviemore – in the House of Commons at 8:53 pm on 9th May 2018.

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Photo of Sarah Newton Sarah Newton The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions 8:53 pm, 9th May 2018

I am not going to give way, because I only have a couple of minutes left and every moment I give way means that I cannot answer the questions that I have been asked. However, I sincerely want to carry on this conversation. I will answer as many questions as I can tonight, but I know that Madam Deputy Speaker will ask me to sit down shortly. We can carry on the conversation, however.

There was a conversation this evening about the definition of terminal illness. Our definition of someone who is terminally ill is that they have a progressive disease and a life expectancy of six months or less. We understand that this is not an exact science, and there is much debate among medical professionals about this. We do not ask claimants to give us evidence of their life expectancy, so terminally ill claimants may well remain on benefits for longer than six months. For example, with personal independence payments, around 40% of terminally ill claimants remain on benefits for longer than a year. We take a pragmatic, person-centred approach to these decisions. These rules were first introduced in 1990. We have regular conversations with the medical profession, and we want to ensure that people are given an absolute guarantee of the financial support that they and their families need and that their claims are handled swiftly to reduce the burden on individuals.

Having listened to the medical profession, we understand that six months strikes about the right balance between providing the support that people need and confidence in the prognosis, because the longer the prognosis, the less likely it is to be accurate. Making the period longer than six months would therefore make the diagnosis, and potentially the conversation between doctor and patient, that much more difficult. The Department works very closely with doctors and clinicians, and we are always looking for ways to improve the experience for any of our claimants and for any of our benefits.

We know that people need support with the DS1500 form. Our staff can offer support and we have consent arrangements in place so that third parties—excellent organisations such as Macmillan—can work directly with us. We have visiting services so that someone can go to a patient’s home to go through this, and the Department has well-established appointeeship arrangements for people who are unable to manage their own affairs.

With regard to how universal credit works in this situation, as soon as we know that someone is terminally ill, they will receive an additional £318.76 a month in their universal credit entitlement, paid from day one, and there are no work-related requirements at all.

I am out of time and have not been able to address all the work that we have been doing, listening carefully to our partners and making sure that the interface between universal credit and the legacy benefits of employment and support allowance and personal independence payment runs as smoothly as possible. It is incredibly important that we listen and learn and make improvements, so that this tragic situation that people find themselves in is dealt with as sensitively and swiftly as possible. I am absolutely determined to do that and will be very pleased to meet the hon. Gentleman and the all-party parliamentary group to go through their questions in more detail and provide further information and assurances.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.