Law Centre NI welcomes the endorsement by the Communities Committee of the Minister’s proposal to accelerate passage of a bill that will change the law on access to benefits for people with a diagnosis of a terminal illness. This will mean that the law should be changed by the end of the Northern Ireland Assembly mandate in March 2022.
Last year, Law Centre NI brought a case on behalf of a young mother, Lorraine Cox, with a terminal illness who could not get fast-track support from the social security system because the law did not allow this for people in Lorraine’s circumstances; she didn’t satisfy the six months life expectancy criteria. The Social Security (Terminal Illness) Bill will change that by extending the life expectancy criteria from six months to 12 months.
As Minister for Communities Deirdre Hargey recognises, the new law will be a stepping stone, pending a full review of a range of options, including looking at what Scotland have done to introduce a clinical model. In the meantime, this change will make a difference and we look forward to continuing the engagement with the Department for Communities to achieve the best possible outcome that supports people facing the most tragic of circumstances.
We want to acknowledge the great work of Marie Curie, MND Association and many others who have kept the focus on this critical issue. We also want to pay tribute to the courage of our client, Lorraine, in pursuing her case. They have all been tireless advocates for change.
Cross-party support for progressing this quickly is critical and we would like to thank members of the Communities Committee for their ongoing support.