Victims of industrial diseases such as the asbestos cancer mesothelioma are being "robbed" of government compensation because of an "unjust and indefensible" loophole in the benefit system, say campaigners.
The Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (IIDB) was designed as a compensation payment, but thousands of sufferers are having most of the money clawed back because it cancels out means-tested benefits. Some have even reported they are worse off after receiving the payment as it is counted as an "income", causing pension credits and housing benefits to be taken away as well as access to free dental and eye care.
"They've been robbed of their life and now they're being robbed of their compensation; it's just hugely insulting," said Anthony Whitston, of the Asbestos Support Groups Forum. "Sometimes we advise people not to claim it at all because they would simply be worse off," he said.
Around 200,000 people receive weekly payments from the Government after being rendered disabled by their working lives; 70 per cent of these are victims of asbestos exposure and one in five also relies on other means-tested benefits. The average IIDB payment is £40.60 a week, but many never see this extra money because of benefit system flaws.
"If you're on means-tested benefits with asbestosis and you're currently getting free glasses or dental care you really will be out of pocket", said Mr Whitston. "It is simply beyond comprehension that someone who is dying from mesothelioma can lose virtually the whole of their weekly compensation for the short period of their remaining lives.
"Those of us who advise asbestos victims on their rights to compensation are embarrassed and ashamed to have to explain how compensation is given with one hand and snatched back with the other. This adds insult to injury. It is unjust and indefensible."
In as early as 2006, a report by the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council (IIAC), a body which advises the Department of Work and Pensions, said: "Cases of mesothelioma who receive IIDB should not lose means tested benefits because IIDB is compensation for personal injury not income replacement".
Despite this recommendation, and the ongoing suffering of those with excruciating diseases such as mesothelioma, it continues to be treated like an ordinary benefit.
Michael Clapham MP, the chair of the all-party occupational safety and health group, said: "It's outrageous. The IIDB was always intended as a compensatory award and yet you can now have two people in exactly the same situation where one man is better off and another ends up with nothing extra because they're relying on a state pension. It's something the Secretary of State for the DWP needs to seriously address."
Tony Webster, 72, from Derby is one of those who have been left worse off by the scheme. He is suffering from asbestosis after working for 30 years as a lagger. Earlier this year he was awarded £43.08 IIDB a week for asbestosis. By the time he lost his pension credit and had to pay towards his housing and council benefit he was just £4.57 better off. To make matters worse, when he went to the dentist he discovered that he was no longer entitled to free dental treatment – making him worse off than before.
"When I got the IIDB I noticed straight away that my pension credit had disappeared," said Mr Webster. "Then I went to the dentist and he said I now had to pay full price because I wasn't on pension credit. This was meant to help me and now I'm worse off; it's ridiculous."
Richard Exell, TUC senior policy officer and member of the IIAC, said: "Ending this injustice should be a priority for the Department for Work and Pensions."
A DWP spokesman said: "Income from IIDB is taken into account when calculating entitlement for income related benefits.
"The rules on treatment of income strike the balance between protecting the most vulnerable while ensuring help from taxpayers, some of whom may be on low incomes themselves, is given to those who need it the most."
It's not fair: 'Joe worked all his life, now this'
Joseph King, 77, from Manchester, has just months to live after contracting the cancer mesothelioma from working with asbestos brake linings. He has been allocated £143.60 IIDB a week, but once his means-tested pension, housing and council tax benefits were reduced he is just £20.91 better off, losing 85 per cent of his compensation. His wife Ann, 70, said: "It isn't his fault he's got mesothelioma. Instead of helping us they're giving with one hand and taking it away with the other. All the money in the world won't get rid of what he's got, but it would have been a relief. It's not fair – Joe worked all his life and we don't get much pension credit as it is."
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