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

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:37 pm on 8th September 2022.

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Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) 3:37 pm, 8th September 2022

May I welcome the new Secretary of State, who is not in her place, and the new Minister of State? This is a short but important and welcome Bill that has rightly been approached in a spirit of consensus and in a largely non-partisan manner. Hon. Members on both sides of the House and former Members have campaigned hard over many years to get us to this point; it may feel inevitable now that we have reached it, but I know that it does not feel inevitable while people are campaigning for it. The former Minister, Justin Tomlinson, played his part as well. All credit must be paid to everybody who has brought us to this point, including the charities and campaigning organisations that have done so much work and have brought the evidence to the Government for making the change.

All Members who have debated the Bill this afternoon or in the other House agree that the experience for people with a terminal illness is almost inevitably one of financial worry as a result of lost earnings and additional costs. At the very time when they need the least stress in their life, financial worries all too frequently add not just to their own stress but to that of their loved ones and those who care for them. The last thing that people with a serious illness or a terminal condition need is to go through the worry of making benefit applications and amassing evidence. The fewer cliff edges in their path, the better. We need to do everything we can to reduce the stresses for people who are already living with unimaginable stress. The Bill is welcome because it will do that. It will relieve stress for many, many people for a considerable period.

As my hon. Friend Matt Rodda made clear in opening this short debate, it is a shame that it has taken us three years to proceed from the start of the evaluation of the special rules for terminal illness to where we are now, but we are none the less relieved that we are passing legislation, and doing so with everyone’s support. We want these changes to proceed with all speed. However, there are one or two areas in which we have sought additional assurances; no doubt they will be referred to in Committee as well.

First, can we be assured that as we pass from the general into the specific—the opening up of entitlement to potentially tens of thousands of individuals—no further barriers will be put in the way of claimants, and the system will have the capacity to process applications swiftly and compassionately? Perhaps during the Bill’s further stages the Minister will be able to say a bit little more about what capacity can be guaranteed in the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure that that will be possible.

Secondly, we have heard a little about the need for us to monitor the potential for different approaches as the Bill proceeds. As we heard from my hon. Friend Jessica Morden, there will still be a great deal to do once the six-month rule has been consigned to history. It is important for us at least to keep an open mind as we monitor the implications of these changes, in view of the inevitable trade-offs. We must ensure that a time limit which has the benefit of administrative simplicity does not exclude the exceptional needs of people with an illness, because health conditions are so imprecise and the evaluation of the medical profession is inevitably precise. The circumstances of those whose condition takes them just over a period of qualification should be considered flexibly and compassionately. A more open-ended approach may be more complex, but it can ensure that individuals are treated in a more dignified and compassionate manner.

Obviously we have no intention of delaying the Bill’s progress. However, we seek assurances from the Minister that these issues will be considered further, that the impact will be closely monitored, and that attention will be paid to the merits of an alternative approach. That said, I hope that we can now move very quickly to complete the passage of the Bill.