Social Security (Special Rules for End of Life) Bill [Lords]

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:40 pm on 8th September 2022.

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Photo of Chloe Smith Chloe Smith Assistant Whip, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 2:40 pm, 8th September 2022

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

It is a pleasure to move the Second Reading of the Bill in this role, and I welcome the new member of my ministerial team, the Minister of State, my hon. Friend Victoria Prentis, who will be at the Dispatch Box for the later stages of this Bill.

For a person to find out that their illness cannot be cured can be a frightening experience. As a Government, we are committed to do all that we can to alleviate the pressures facing those who are nearing the end of their lives and their families. To provide some financial security to those who find themselves in this difficult position, the Department for Work and Pensions has, since the 1990s, provided access to key benefits via what are often referred to as the “special rules”. These are benefit rules that enable people who are nearing the end of their lives to get fast-track access to certain benefits. Historically, people eligible under those rules have not had to wait as long as others to start getting benefit payments. They have not been required to go through medical assessments, and, in most cases, have qualified for higher rates of benefit. In order to access this fast-track route, people had to be assessed by their healthcare professional as having six months or less to live, and this became known as the six-month rule.

For more than 30 years, these special rules have ensured that, at this most difficult time, people have got the financial support to which they are entitled quickly and easily. None the less, since those rules were first introduced there have been significant advances in how the NHS treats and cares for people nearing the end of their lives, meaning that many terminally ill people are now living longer. Given these advances, in July 2019 the Department launched an in-depth evaluation of how the benefit system supports people nearing the end of their lives. As part of that consultation, the Department worked with those people, those who support them and clinicians.

The evaluation’s findings showed that there was consensus across all groups that the Government should extend the current six-month rule. It showed support for the DWP to adopt a 12-month end-of-life approach that would allow people in the final year of their life to claim under the special rules. An added benefit of the 12-month approach was that it would also bring greater consistency with the definition of “end of life” used within the NHS and across Government.