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

Volume 823: debated on Wednesday 22 June 2022

Third Reading

Motion

Moved by

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

At Second Reading, all who spoke acknowledged the importance of our social security system providing support as quickly as possible for those who are nearing the end of their lives. This Bill will ensure that more people in their final year of life can access the benefits for which they are eligible in a fast-tracked and simplified way. It is right that the Government are making eligibility changes for this fast-tracked access, so that those expected to live for 12 months or less, rather than the current six months, can benefit. This Bill will mean that thousands more people at the end of their lives will be able to access benefits earlier than they currently do. It will also result in a consistent end-of-life definition being used across health and welfare services in England and Wales, which will be more easily understood by clinicians and end-of-life charities.

I thank all noble Lords for their support in ensuring that this Bill passes through the House quickly. Clearly, we all recognise the significant positive impact this change will have for people who are nearing the end of their lives, and their families. I was also very grateful to noble Lords who engaged with me so constructively while the Bill was passing through this House. Several noble Lords signalled their overall support while also raising important issues, which I will ensure are taken into account as we work to implement the changes that we progress.

I end by paying tribute to all the campaigners and charities that have worked in this area; their support has been crucial in reaching this point and I am sure that all noble Lords join me in recognising the admirable support they provide people nearing the end of their lives.

The Social Security (Special Rules for End of Life) Bill will provide thousands more people with vital financial support, so that they can worry a little less about their finances and focus more on sharing the valuable time they have left with the people who matter to them the most.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her remarks and thank all noble Lords who participated in this Bill at the previous stage. It is a short Bill, but one which will have real benefits to people who have been told they have less than 12 months to live. The House can do few things that matter more than to make people’s final months easier than they might otherwise be. The change is long overdue, and we are very pleased to support it. Once again, I commend Marie Curie, MNDA and all the charities that have campaigned to get to this point.

We chose not to table amendments to the Bill, even though I would have liked the opportunity to explore some of the issues about the support available to people nearing the end of their life. However, it is really important to get this onto the statute book as soon as possible because, at the moment, some benefits are available only to those with six months to live and others are for those with 12. That is confusing for clinicians and patients, so we want to support this getting there as fast as possible. I hope that the Minister can assure the House that the Government will reward our restraint by ensuring that the Bill gets through the other place before the Summer Recess.

Since we are not having a Committee or Report stage, I would like to ask two quick questions, of which I have given notice to the Minister. She is aware that various stakeholders, while supporting the Bill, had argued for a more open-ended approach than the one the Government chose to take. This Bill will allow special rules awards to be made for three years, whereas the Scottish Government have taken a different, more open-ended approach. Can the Minister assure the House that the Government intend to evaluate the effectiveness of the approach they have chosen to take in this Bill? Will they take advantage of the opportunity afforded by devolution to compare their approach with that taken by the Scottish Government, and implemented only recently?

In that vein, I ask about the success metrics for this policy change. Will the Minister’s department monitor whether more people are able to fast-track their claims? Will they monitor if fewer people are dying before their claims for benefits under the normal rules have been cleared? That has been an issue; it takes so long to process claims for PIP that people are dying before their claims are processed. Will the Government monitor if claimants find the process easy to manage?

I would like to express my thanks to the Minister and her officials for involving us, and to colleagues for their thoughtful contributions. We send the Bill to the Commons with our full support, and we wish it Godspeed.

My Lords, my noble friend Lady Janke cannot be in her place today, so I am delighted to thank, on behalf of the Liberal Democrat Benches, the Minister for her remarks and all Peers who have taken part during passage of this Bill. I also want to thank the Minister’s officials, who have been very helpful. It was encouraging that the Bill is supported cross-party. It may be a short Bill, but we believe that its effects will be transformative to those individuals, and their families, who have to face a terminal illness and the financial shocks that go with it as they live the last few months of their lives.

We, too, decided not to table amendments, though we would have liked to, because we felt it was important that this Bill proceeded quickly. Prior to the Second Reading, we had discussions with Marie Curie and other organisations about whether the Government should review the impact of the legislation after a year and make an assessment as to whether the provisions of the Act have had a significant impact on reducing levels of poverty for individuals with a life expectancy of less than 12 months.

We draw the same parallel as the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, that in Scotland they deleted any reference to timeframes. I think this would help to give us a comparator once the Bill has been enacted and put into practice in England for a year.

I want to pick up also the point that the noble Baroness made about time for the processing of claims. I made this point at Second Reading, and I hope that for everyone it will be as speedy as possible. I was reassured the Minister said that moving it to 12 months would not slow the process down, but we remain concerned that for some people it is still not as fast as it should be, given the straits that they find themselves in.

At the Second Reading I raised the current anomalies in the rules for the benefits of severely disabled children aged under three, compared to those over three. The Minister kindly agreed to arrange a meeting with the relevant Minister for myself and Together for Short Lives. Unfortunately, I have been offered a policy officer to answer my questions by email, which, while being very kind—and I appreciate the offer—is not quite what the Minister said. As I said at Second Reading, this is a policy decision to treat seriously ill small children differently to their older peers, so please can I repeat my request for a meeting with the relevant Minister?

That aside, from these Benches we welcome this short but vital Bill and look forward in hope that it will ease some of the financial difficulties faced by terminally ill people and their families.

I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Sherlock and Lady Brinton, for their supportive comments, and may I say that we are doing everything we can to get this through the other place in time? Everybody is on red alert to do so.

I would particularly like to address the points made by both noble Baronesses, Lady Sherlock and Lady Brinton. The noble Baroness Sherlock is interested in the department’s approach to evaluating the changes being proposed in this Bill and whether this will also cover a comparison with the approach taken by the Scottish Government. I can confirm that we will continue to monitor our own approach and watch with interest the different approach taken by the Scottish Government as it is fully rolled out.

We will also continue to conduct audits of medical evidence provided to us in support of claims made under the fast-track special rule process and to monitor feedback that claimants provide to the DWP through our existing communication channels. The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, also expressed interest in the metrics that would be used to judge the success of the new approach for claims made under the special rules for end of life. The department considers the time taken for these claimants to receive the financial support that they are eligible for as a measure of the policy’s success. I am extremely pleased that the department has a strong record of processing claims made under the special rules in a matter of a few days on average. We also had a constructive relationship with end-of- life charities and will continue to work with them to ensure that the policy intent behind the Bill is being met.

On the noble Baroness’s question about people dying while waiting for the outcome of a claim under normal rules, we want to do all we can to ensure that people get the support they are entitled to while living with a long-term disability or health condition. It is obviously incredibly sad when someone passes away while waiting for the outcome of a PIP claim. The cause of death for PIP claimants is not collated centrally by the department. However, there is no evidence to suggest that someone’s reason for claiming PIP was the cause of their death, and it would be misleading to suggest otherwise.

Finally, the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, is interested in whether we will check that claimants find the process easy to manage. I assure all noble Lords that the department is engaging with stakeholders, and clinicians involved in supporting people to claim under the special rules, to ensure that they understand and can navigate the process. We will continue to do so. The department is also looking at making process improvements for the end-to-end customer journey for claims made under the special rules and will use the direct experience of claimants to inform that work as it progresses.

Regarding the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, I did agree to a meeting. I am not quite sure what has happened, but I will go back and advise people that we will meet. It will get me into trouble but I will do it. I have held two all-Peers briefings on this Bill. As always, my door is open. Going forward, the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, who is sponsoring this Bill in the other place, will be happy to reach out on any outstanding questions that noble Lords may have.

Bill passed and sent to the Commons.