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Dying people should have early access to state pension

Paloma Kubiak
Written By:
Paloma Kubiak

A charity is calling on the government to give working people early access to state pensions when they’re diagnosed with a terminal illness to stop them dying in poverty.

In the UK, around 90,000 people die in poverty every year, with those of working age at higher risk, according to end-of-life charity Marie Curie.

Its report, based on research from Loughborough University, revealed more than one in four of this group are dying in poverty, which mean they’re twice as likely than those who live past pension age.

And for those with dependant children, the figures rise to two out of three on the poverty line towards the end of their lives if they die before retirement.

As such, the charity is calling for the thousands of working people facing death to have access to their state pension as the current benefit system “fails to protect them from falling below the poverty line”.

It said that having to reduce or give up work, combined with the added costs of living with a terminal illness, such as higher energy bills and paying for home adaptations and care, “all contribute to the likelihood of financial hardship among this group, with costs rising as much as £16,000 a year”.

Marie Curie said it welcomed the government’s recent move to allow people with a terminal diagnosis of 12 months or less to get expedited access to benefits, but said much more needs to be done to eradicate poverty at the end of life, particularly now as many struggle with the cost of living.

Debt burden risk before death

In one case, a mother who was diagnosed with terminal bone cancer said she fears she won’t have enough money to sustain her family.

The 48-year-old who lives in the Scottish Highlands with her husband and seven-year-old son, said they’re having to cut back on food, electricity and gas, and are requesting nurses to come to her home so she can save petrol money in cutting back on trips to the hospital.

Melanie Armer, said: “With the rising heating bills, it was never a problem before, but it’s how it is now. I’ve already started stockpiling blankets and hot water bottles for next winter. I can’t even rely on things like electric blankets because of the cost of electricity going through the roof. I live in the Highlands of Scotland, which is a colder climate and as soon as my bones get cold, they hurt. It’s very painful.

“We have to keep the house warm, but with the energy prices going up we can’t do that. There’s no way we’re going to be able to afford it. The UK government needs to address these issues – for everyone out there in my situation.”

Matthew Reed, chief executive of Marie Curie, said: “No one wants to imagine spending the last months of their life shivering in a cold home, struggling to feed themselves, their children, and burdened with the anxiety of falling into debt. But for 90,000 people a year that is their reality. It’s a far cry from the end of life that we’d all hope for. We are staggered to see the scale of poverty among dying people. Simply put, it is shocking.

“It is clear the working age benefits system is failing to prevent dying people from falling into poverty. The UK government must act to give dying people early access to their state pension. It cannot be right that people who won’t live to pension age due to terminal illness miss out when they desperately need it simply because they are not ‘old enough’ when they die.”

Jon Greer, head of retirement policy at Quilter, said: “It is seems illogical that someone can delay taking their state pension income – with the individual receiving a higher state pension income as a result – but they cannot trigger their state pension payment where they are facing terminal illness and facing a catastrophic picture where they are having to reduce their workload, when facing additional care costs and a cost-of-living crisis all the while unable to access the state pension benefits that they will unlikely ever see.”

‘Financial support quickly and compassionately’

A DWP spokesperson, said: “Approaching the end of your life is an unimaginable challenge and our priority is providing people with financial support quickly and compassionately. Those nearing the end of their lives can get fast-track access to a range of benefits without needing a face-to-face assessment or waiting period, with the majority of individuals receiving the highest rate of those benefits.

“From April, we extended that support for Employment and Support Allowance and Universal Credit, and in this week’s Queen’s Speech, we announced similar changes to Personal Independence Payment, Disability Living Allowance and Attendance Allowance, meaning thousands more people at the end of life will be able to access these benefits earlier.

“In addition, the Government is taking decisive action to ease pressures on the cost of living, including spending £22 billion across the next financial year to support people with energy bills and cut fuel duty, and our £1 billion Household Support Fund is helping the most vulnerable with essential costs.”

Financial help if you’re struggling

Check if you’re receiving all the benefits which you’re entitled to, and if you’re terminally ill, check the government site for details on claiming.

The Social Security (Special Rules for End of Life) Bill amends the definition of terminal illness in existing legislation, so people who are considered by a clinician as having twelve months or less to live – rather than the current six months – can have fast-tracked access to PIP, DLA and AA.