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Does Universal Credit really need to force you to “self-certify” you’re dying?

Stopping the wait for cancer patients would make life more bearable for those in a desperate position.

Elaine Donnelly says she’s battle weary. Numb. Elaine isn’t a Universal Credit claimant nor is she a politician, she just tries to help the sick and the dying to navigate the complexities of their Universal Credit claims.

Elaine works with the Highland Macmillan Citizen’s Advice Bureau partnership and has been dealing with Universal Credit cases for people undergoing cancer treatment and for those who are terminally ill, and kindly spoke at the Universal Credit Summit that I recently hosted in Inverness. 

During debates in Parliament, the UK government benches have often accused those who have flagged up the incidents of personal devastation, humiliation and desperation as “scaremongering”. So I invited the Prime Minister and all of the Tory MPs to the summit to hear from the people who are affected.

Not one attended.

However a range of agencies, local politicians, service providers, and claimants came together at the event to share their experiences of Universal Credit and the roll out, which is now stating to impact on other areas of the UK. The event was an opportunity to hear from the charities that have to pick up the pieces and try to find ways of helping people cope with the results of the systemic failures that we, locally, have witnessed since the pilot started in 2013.

It was the testimony from those brave constituents who attended that was most heart-breaking. By the conclusion of the meeting, the entire room felt emotionally exhausted. These were stories not just from the unemployed but from people in work, including working mums, the self-employed, the disabled and, shockingly, the dying.

The stories of people like Les, who had only 24p to last two weeks, or Natalie, a very pregnant mum of two who had to wait four months, over Christmas, to receive payments, are bad enough. But Elaine from Citizens Advice sees people who are dealing with the gravest trauma - losing their lives. She moves mountains to help them, enlisting my office and anybody else who can help but the conveyor belt of cases is relentless, and she is often left facing a brick wall.

She spoke of one constituent who was dealing with the diagnosed of cancer and a course of chemotherapy. Imagine facing the stress of not knowing the outcome of your treatment, while being told you will not be getting any support payment from Universal Credit for six weeks? Add to that the fact it is actually going to take three months, and when the payment eventually comes through, it is wrong. Worse still, a £500 deduction is taken to repay another benefit that you have never actually claimed or received. It is a cruel and unnecessary condition of Universal Credit that cancer patients have to wait for their entitlements.

These are not difficult things to sort. Hence why I have pleaded with the Prime Minister to act to end the heartache Universal Credit is causing, and to end the impact it is having on those who are terminally ill. Changes to Universal Credit now mean that there is a requirement for those claiming Universal Credit, to “self-certify” that they are dying to complete their claim.

This does not match up wtih reality. Many people ask their doctors to spare them the bad news, because they simply can’t face it. Others simply do not have the capacity to deal with their prognosis – nor should they have to. Yet changes implemented through Universal Credit mean regardless of all else, the terminally ill are expected to grapple with this devastating news personally. This must change – the government has no right to remove their rights is such a thoughtless way.

In the Autumn Budget 2017, the chancellor made one concession - reducing the waiting time by a week - but the government is yet to address the underlying problems. Stopping the wait for cancer patients and removing the self-certification requirements would not fix the manifest and numerous problems of Universal Credit, but it would make life more bearable for those in a desperate position. And it would be a bit of a respite for Elaine and those like her throughout the nations of the UK who are, or will be, picking up the pieces.

Drew Hendry is the SNP MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey​.

Photo: Getty
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Commons Confidential: Tories turn on “Lord Snooty”

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

With the Good Friday Agreement’s 20th anniversary rapidly approaching, Jeremy Corbyn’s office is scrambling to devise a celebration that doesn’t include Tony Blair. Peace in Northern Ireland is a sparkling jewel in the former prime minister’s crown, perhaps the most precious legacy of the Blair era. But peace in Labour is more elusive. Comrade Corbyn’s plot to airbrush the previous party leader out of the picture is personal. Refusing to share a Brexit referendum platform with Blair and wishing to put him in the dock over Iraq were political. Northern Ireland is more intimate: Corbyn was pilloried for IRA talks and Blair threatened to withdraw the whip after the Islington North MP met Gerry Adams before the 1997 election. The Labour plan, by the way, is to keep the celebrations real – focusing on humble folk, not grandees such as Blair.

Beleaguered Tory Europeans call Brextremist backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg – the hard-line European Research Group’s even harder line no-dealer – “Lord Snooty” behind his back. The Edwardian poshie, who orchestrates Theresa May’s taxpayer-funded Militant Tendency (members of the Brexit party within a party are able to claim “research” fees on expenses), is beginning to grate. My irritated snout moaned that the Beano was more fun and twice as informative as the Tories’ own Lord Snooty.

Labour’s Brexit fissures are getting bigger but Remainers are also far from united. I’m told that Andy Slaughter MP is yet to forgive Chuka Umunna for an “ill-timed” pro-EU amendment to last June’s Queen’s Speech, which led to Slaughter’s sacking from the front bench for voting to stay in the single market. The word is that a looming customs union showdown could trigger more Labexits unless Jezza embraces tariff-free trade.

Cold war warriors encouraging a dodgy Czech spy to smear Comrade Corbyn couldn’t be further from the truth about his foreign adventures. In Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, Corbyn recalled spending a night in Burundi pumping up footballs. The club offered to donate shirts for an aid trip but he asked for the balls to be shared by entire African villages. He was War on Want, not Kim Philby.

Screaming patriot Andrew Rosindell, the chairman of an obscure flags and heraldry committee, is to host a lecture in parliament on the Union Jack. I once witnessed the Romford Tory MP dress Buster, his bull terrier, in a flag waistcoat to greet Maggie Thatcher. She walked past without noticing.

A Tory MP mused that Iain Duncan Smith was nearly nicknamed “Smithy”, not “IDS”, for his 2001 leadership campaign. Smithy would still have proved a lousy commander.

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 22 February 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Sunni vs Shia