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Special Rules for Terminal Illnesses: Review

Volume 673: debated on Monday 9 March 2020

7. What progress her Department has made on the review of special rules for terminal illnesses announced on 11 July 2019. (901387)

The Department is prioritising a full review in this vital area, evaluating how the benefits system supports people nearing the end of their lives and those with severe conditions. We are making significant progress on this, having engaged with claimants, clinicians and stakeholders to bring forward options.

I thank the Minister for that update and the Government for taking the initiative in reviewing these rules. My North West Norfolk constituents suffering terminal illnesses want to see the six-month rule scrapped, so will he continue to work with the Motor Neurone Disease Association, Marie Curie and others to find a solution that works for all of them?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. Absolutely. The reason we commissioned the review was that the status quo needs to change. We recognise that, and I wish to pay tribute to the organisations that have been supporting a thorough review, including the MND Association, Marie Curie, Hospice UK, Macmillan, the Royal College of Nursing, Sue Ryder and NHS England.

Scotland has already shown what can be done when a Government put dignity and respect at the heart of their welfare policies—for example, by removing any time qualification for people who are terminally ill. Why has the Department for Work and Pensions not yet followed Social Security Scotland’s lead and what are Ministers waiting for?

My understanding is that that has not yet been changed in Scotland. We are working with our Scottish colleagues and looking at all options. As I have said, our review will conclude shortly. Having consulted extensively with stakeholders, claimants and clinicians, and having looked at the international evidence, we will not be having the status review; we will be looking to improve the case for people towards the end of their life.

Although face-to-face reassessments are very important in the normal processing of claims, do the Government accept that people living with and suffering from terminal diseases should be exempted from the stress that such reassessments impose?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We can typically turn around those applying under the special rules for terminal illness process within six days, ensuring that those who are most in need of support get it as quickly and as swiftly as possible.

Does the Minister agree that it is inappropriate for terminally ill people who do not qualify for universal credit under the special rules for terminal illness to have to go to their jobcentre to discuss their career when they may not have very long left to live?

As part of this review we are looking at consistency across DWP work, as well as working with the NHS and hospices to try to have a more consistent and sympathetic approach. Where claimants do struggle to get to jobcentres, there are always opportunities for home visits.