UK Battle for Justice: Asbestos Victims Penalized 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



UK sufferers of asbestos-related diseases are at increased risk from Covid-19 as their lungs are already scarred by the toxic fibers previously ingested. As well as fearing for their lives during these turbulent times, they face a Herculean task to access compensation to which they are entitled. According to information provided by the Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK (the Forum), 272 asbestos claims for Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit have yet to be processed by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and 16 victims have died whilst waiting to receive these benefits. As Forum Chair Joanne Gordon explained:

“Since the Coronavirus, the Industrial Injuries Disablement medical assessments have stopped and, therefore, no award of benefits have been made for either the Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (IIDB) or the Workers Compensation Scheme (WCS) for claimants of prescribed diseases Asbestosis or Pleural Thickening. Moreover, some of these claims date back to January 2020 because, although the claim was made before lockdown, the medical had not taken place.”

Although the Government had provided assurances that claims, once resolved, would be backdated, the Forum pointed out that many of the claimants are elderly and ill. To date, the DWP has been unable to provide a time scale for when in person medicals will restart. In light of the fact that alternative arrangements had been made for claimants of other benefits (including the Personal Independence Payment and the Employment & Social Allowance) – the use of phone consultations supported by medical evidence, for example – the situation faced by claimants with asbestosis or pleural thickening was of grave concern to Forum members.

Another injustice highlighted by the Forum during an October 2020 Zoom meeting of the Parliamentary Asbestos Sub-Group was the ramifications of delays to the approval of lump sum awards under the Workers Compensation Scheme. As payments are partially based on a person’s age at the time IIDB is awarded, untimely delays can result in claimants being older and therefore eligible for lower levels of benefits. One such example, provided by the Forum, was the case of Barry who made a claim for diffuse pleural thickening on April 9, 2020 when he was 55 years old. As of now, he is 56 and should the claim be adjudicated before his next birthday he could lose out on between 1,325 and 2,280.

Another inequity that affects sufferers of the signature cancer, mesothelioma relates to the operation of the Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme under which living patients receive far more than their surviving relatives. For example, someone diagnosed at 67 is entitled to a payment of 20,042; by contrast, should this person die, their dependants would receive 8,084. Equalizing payments would, the Forum calculated, cost 1.5 million a year.

The Tories are responding to Covid-19 as they do to every crisis: with a ruthless venality that prioritizes their interests at all costs. Almost nine months into the UK epidemic, the needs of asbestos victims remain unaddressed. Throughout the country, businesses have embraced technological solutions and innovative practices in face of the new reality. It is not too much to ask the Government to do the same, especially when those being let down have already lost so much.

October 27, 2020



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