When a person is diagnosed with mesothelioma, the asbestos related cancer affecting the lining of the lungs, they are automatically entitled to benefits to assist with the financial cost of dealing with such a devastating diagnosis.
What are mesothelioma benefit payments?
A diagnosis of mesothelioma, which almost always proves fatal, can place a real financial burden on the sufferer and their family, in addition to the enormous emotional and physical strain.
The sufferer is likely to have several trips to the hospital, possibly involving in-patient care which incurs travelling and parking costs for them and their loved ones. They may experience symptoms which make it difficult for them to access parts of their home, or travel outside their home, meaning that they need to make potentially expensive alterations to their property, or purchase mobility aids. Family members often have to take time away from work to assist with care and may well lose part or all of their income.
What legislation covers the payment awards?
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) pays a lump sum which can in part defray some of the additional costs. Which legislation covers the payment depends upon whether the sufferer was employed or self-employed, though the lump sum is the same amount regardless.
The Pneumoconiosis (Workers’ Compensation) Act 1979
If a person was employed, was exposed at work and has not yet made a civil claim for compensation against their employer, they claim under the Pneumoconiosis (Workers’ Compensation) Act 1979.
Child Maintenance and Other Payments Act 2008
Where the exposure was during self-employment, or if they were not exposed to asbestos at work, the claim is under the diffuse mesothelioma section of the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Act 2008. In addition, other weekly benefits can be claimed.
The inequality between lifetime and posthumous payments
If the diagnosis of mesothelioma is not made in a person’s lifetime, perhaps investigations are not conclusive or a person presents to their medical team at a late stage and investigations cannot be carried out in time, the family are entitled to claim for a lump sum posthumously. The sting in the tail, however, is that posthumous payments are smaller amounts than those made to a living sufferer.
This is clearly a significant injustice. Just because a diagnosis has not been confirmed while the sufferer was alive does not mean that their family has not had the same level of additional expense in caring for their loved one. They will have likely attended numerous hospital appointments (possibly more if there were tests still being done when they died), purchased additional items, made home adjustments to give their loved one comfort and dignity at the end of their life and given up work to care for them in their last days or weeks.
Just like those who died with a diagnosis, the relatives of those without are left to carry the financial burden of losing their loved one years earlier than would otherwise have been the case. In many cases, the early death of one partner leaves the other managing a household on only one income, when they would otherwise have had two incomes for many years ahead, if their partner had not been cruelly taken from them by this terrible disease.
The Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum
This is an inequality that has long been recognised and fought against by the Forum of Asbestos Victims Support Groups.
Joanne Gordon, Chair of the Group, says, “The Forum are committed to equalisation of the Government lump sum schemes for deceased and in-life claimants. Family members who discover that mesothelioma took away their loved one only after their death feel that the disparity in the awards means that the life of their loved one is regarded as being of less value. This is surely morally wrong, especially as it makes no difference in a legal claim when the diagnosis was made. It also places the family of the deceased who died without a diagnosis and who will still be reduced to one income in greater financial hardship as they, through no fault of their own, receive a lower Government compensation payment.”
“The victims who receive payment are not interested in the money for themselves. However, they are concerned about the financial security of their families. There is clearly a moral and financial case for raising the level of posthumous payments.”
In 2018, of the 3,830 payments made by the DWP under the two lump sum schemes for mesothelioma, 260 were posthumous. Equalising the payments would not significantly increase the cost of the schemes but would make a great deal of difference to the 260 individual families affected by the inequality.
Mesothelioma does not discriminate. It places the same enormous financial burden upon families whenever it is diagnosed. As the Government undertakes a review of the value of the lump sum awards, Thompsons joins our voice with the Forum, and all the affected families, to call for equality of payment so that lump sum awards paid posthumously are increased to the same level as lifetime payments.