Northern Ireland news

Parties unite to change 'inhumane' benefits rules for terminally ill

Calling for change, from left to right, Joan McEwan, head of policy and public affairs, Marie Curie Northern Ireland; Cllr Robert Foster, Ulster Unionist Party; Roy Beggs MLA, Ulster Unionist Party; Stephen Thompson, Northern Ireland chairman, Motor Neurone Disease Association; Kellie Armstrong MLA, Alliance Party; Steven Agnew MLA, Green Party; Gerry Carroll MLA, People Before Profit; Paula Bradshaw MLA, Alliance Party; John Blair MLA, Alliance Party; Nichola Mallon MLA, SDLP; Colm Davis, Motor Neurone Disease Association; Victoria Davis, Motor Neurone Disease Association; Stewart Dickson MLA, Alliance Party.
Mairead Holland

SEVEN Stormont parties have united to demand fairer benefits for terminally ill people, describing the system as “cruel” and “inhumane”.

Under the current rules, claimants can get fast-tracked access to benefits but only if they prove they have less than six months to live.

The call comes as a report by a cross-party group of MPs concludes that the legislation on benefits, including Universal Credit and Personal Independence Payment (PIP), isn't fit for purpose.

Representatives of the DUP, Sinn Féin, SDLP, UUP, Alliance Party, Green Party and People Before Profit have called on the Department for Communities to introduce a more compassionate system.

The report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Terminal Illness, published yesterday, found that many dying claimants are having to fight for financial support and wait months to receive their benefits.

It is recommending that the UK Government amends the legal definition of terminal illness and that GPs should decide when a patient is terminally ill.

Charities Marie Curie and the Motor Neurone Disease Association have been campaigning for the six-month rule to be scrapped and replaced with a new system based on clinical judgement, as has recently been adopted in Scotland.

Joan McEwan, head of policy and public affairs for Marie Curie Northern Ireland, said the difficulty in accurately predicting life expectancy for terminally ill people is resulting in many of the claimants falling outside the fast-track process.

"This is cruel, lacking in compassion and needs to change,” he said.

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