Terminally ill people urge UK government to pay pensions early

Those of working age who die are twice as likely to spend final year of life in poverty, says charity

Terminally ill people are calling on the UK government to start paying their state pensions early so they can enjoy what is left of their lives and tackle a “cost of dying” crisis.

People of working age who are unlikely to survive long enough to claim their state pension say the change would cost little more than the amount lost each year to erroneous pension payouts by the Department for Work and Pensions.

Marie Curie, an end of life charity, has calculated the cost at £114m a year – a tenth of 1% of the annual state pension bill. Those of working age who die are twice as likely to spend their final year of life in poverty compared with people of pension age, it says.

“It’s logical [to pay out early],” said Victor Calver, 56, a former freight manager with terminal cancer, who said he did not expect to reach pension age. “Wouldn’t it be nice to go out with a smile on your face?”

He is among the terminally ill people whose incomes have collapsed. Mark Whittaker, whose wife Cheryl was diagnosed with terminal cancer said accessing the state pension early would “change everything … give us back some dignity [and] give us our independence”. They are facing soaring energy and laundry bills as Cheryl’s health declines.

“The oncologist basically said just go and enjoy the rest of your life together while you can, which was traumatic in itself,” he said. “Financially, things are just as distressing as the cancer; we are surviving on credit cards at the moment.”

A petition supporting the pension reform has attracted 164,000 signatures, and polls show that 75% of UK adults support the idea.

Marie Curie estimates most people of working age who die have paid more than 23 years of national insurance contributions.

“Extending that safeguard would prevent thousands of people living with terminal illness falling into poverty at the end of their lives,” said Mark Jackson, a senior policy and research manager at the charity. “It is the minimum of what a civilised society should expect to do for dying people.”

Audrey Buckham, whose husband Edward died aged 64 last summer, said she had to declare herself bankrupt as his earnings dried up and they faced additional costs to look after him. They could not afford even weekend breaks, she said.

“I don’t think it’s right that terminally ill people should worry about money at all,” she said. “It would have been nice for us to go away for a little weekend. He loved the fresh air on his face and the smell of the sea and it would have been nice to have done things like that and have happy memories.”

Helen Barnard, an associate director of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and research and policy director at Pro Bono Economics, said: “It’s quite simply wrong that so many people are ending their lives in hardship. Families are forced to feel all the stress and guilt of being unable to make them comfortable, rather than being able to treasure the last few days, weeks or months with their loved ones.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “A terminal diagnosis is an unimaginable challenge, and our priority is providing people with financial support quickly and compassionately. Those nearing the end of their lives can get fast-track access to a range of benefits without needing a face-to-face assessment or waiting period, with the majority receiving the highest rate of those benefits.

“In 2022, we extended that support so thousands more people nearing end of life would be able to access these benefits earlier through special benefit rules. This change has already been implemented for employment and support allowance and universal credit and the government has recently passed an act which enables similar changes to personal independence payment, disability living allowance and attendance allowance.”


Robert Booth Social affairs correspondent

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Why favour older people's futures at the expense of the young?
The relatively protected position of pensioners comes despite the fact that older people are no more likely to be in poverty than their younger counterparts, says Tom Clark

Tom Clark

12, Apr, 2011 @3:00 PM

Article image
Government cannot sue for benefit overpayments, court rules
Department of Work and Pensions cannot take legal action to recover money paid as a result of its own error

Randeep Ramesh, social affairs editor

08, Dec, 2010 @11:24 AM

Article image
UK benefits and pensions: what’s changing?
Pensions and most state benefits go up by 3.1% on 11 April – but bills are rising far faster, and inflation is predicted to top 8.4%

Miles Brignall

11, Apr, 2022 @5:30 AM

Article image
Number of children living in poverty rises

The government's child poverty targets lay in tatters today as new figures showed that 2.9 million children are officially living below the breadline in the UK – up 100,000 since 2005-06

Jenny Percival and agencies

10, Jun, 2008 @9:43 AM

Article image
Number of pensioners in poverty rises to 2.5 million

The number of pensioners living below the poverty line in the UK has risen by 300,000, taking the figure to 2.5 million, official figures out today showed

Kathryn Hopkins

10, Jun, 2008 @11:28 AM

Article image
Disabled man’s death after his benefits were stopped brings back sad memories | Letters
Letters: Jane Ghosh, whose son died in 2018, says the assessment process is severe, Dr Chris Grover says Errol Graham’s death was a social murder, and Amanda Theunissen is struggling to be grateful for a 25p pension increase


03, Feb, 2020 @6:51 PM

Article image
Raise benefits to curb UK crisis in mental health, expert urges
Sir Michael Marmot says ‘uncaring’ system must be made more generous to bridge growing gap in health inequality

Michael Savage

21, Mar, 2021 @8:00 AM

Article image
The ‘welfare state’ should be something we’re proud of. Not a term of abuse | Nicholas Timmins
The phrase has lost its original meaning and become almost a term of abuse. We must reclaim it, says author Nicholas Timmins

Nicholas Timmins

31, Oct, 2017 @7:42 PM

Article image
Up. Up. Up. Child poverty, pensioner poverty, inequality

Gap between richest and poorest families wider despite government efforts

Larry Elliott, economics editor

10, Jun, 2008 @11:01 PM

Thousands fall prey to surge in cost of living

The number of pensioners living below the poverty line has risen by much more than expected to 2.5 million

Kathryn Hopkins

10, Jun, 2008 @11:01 PM