This claim that 2,000 people have died waiting for benefits since a Universal Credit review was announced needs context

20 January 2020
What was claimed

6 months ago the DWP promised a review of Universal Credit for the terminally ill.

Our verdict

Correct. The Department for Work and Pensions said in July 2019 that it would evaluate how the benefits system worked for those nearing the end of their life and those with severe conditions.

What was claimed

In that 6 months, 2,000 people have died with no financial help whatsoever.

Our verdict

Around 17,070 people died over five years, waiting for a decision on their Personal Independence Payment (PIP) application. Researchers used this to get an average of 1,700 over six months. PIP is one type of benefit people with a terminal illness can get.

What was claimed

Iain Duncan Smith has been awarded a knighthood for services to the country.

Our verdict

He has been knighted in the New Years Honours for political and public service.

An image shared over 4,000 times on Facebook has claimed:

“6 months ago today DWP promised a review of Universal Credit for terminally ill. In that time around 2,000 people have died with no financial help whatsoever. Meanwhile…Iain Duncan Smith is awarded a knighthood for services to the country…”

It’s correct that an evaluation of benefits for the terminally ill was announced six months ago. The 2,000 figure is an estimate for how many people died waiting for a decision on a specific benefit. Iain Duncan Smith, former Work and Pensions minister, has also been knighted.

It’s correct that six months before this image was shared, the Department for Work and Pensions announced an “honest and in depth evaluation of how the benefits system supports people nearing the end of their life and those with severe conditions.” The department did not give a deadline for the report.

This is unlikely to only cover Universal Credit though. Depending on the circumstances, terminally ill people may be able to claim Universal Credit and Personal Independence Payment (sometimes to referred to as PIP, which replaced the Disability Living Allowance).

PIP can be claimed by certain people with health conditions or disabilities, and isn’t one of the benefits that was rolled into Universal Credit.

The 2,000 figure seems to come from several media reports of a Marie Curie press release that was published around 11 January.

The press release said: “It is estimated that nearly 2,000 people have died in the last six months without financial support while waiting for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to publish a review on how terminally ill patients access benefits.”

We asked Marie Curie where that 2,000 estimate came from, and they told us it was based on a parliamentary answer from the Department for Work and Pensions.

The Department said on 19 December 2019 that “17,070 [PIP] claimants died after registering but prior to the DWP making a decision on their claim” in the five years between April 2013 and April 2018. The figure covers Great Britain only, and includes people with and without terminal illnesses.

The charity told us it had used this five year figure to get a six month estimate of around 1,700.

There’s some uncertainty around how accurate it is to apply this estimate in the context of this claim. We don’t know whether the number of people dying while they waited for PIP was going up or down, or stayed fairly constant between 2013 and 2018. We also don’t know how many of them had terminal illnesses, or even what they died of. We only have a breakdown of the general category of their “primary illness”. The largest group was “lung cancers – other” of which there were around 1,100. In around 9,000 cases the main disability was not recorded.

Also, this only counted people waiting for PIP. Others may have died while waiting for a decision on their Universal Credit application.

So the estimate of 2,000 is just that, a very rough estimate.

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How benefits work for those with terminal illnesses

When applying for some benefits, such as Universal Credit and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), there are ‘special rules’ which should apply to people with a terminal illness. Their applications are supposed to be fast tracked so they can get payments sooner.

There have been cases covered in the media, and raised by Marie Curie in their press release, where this does not happen and people die before receiving their benefits.

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