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Give dying people of working age the State Pension says Marie Curie

by Lisa Carr

End-of-life charity Marie Curie has described new data showing that 90,000[1] people a year die in poverty in the UK as shocking.  

The charity revealed the statistics today in a new report based on research from Loughborough University.  

It found that people of working age are at a high risk, with more than 1 in 4 (28%) of this group dying in poverty[2].   

This makes those who die at working age more than twice as likely to die in poverty than those who live past pension age[3].  

The risk rises steeply for parents with dependent children, with two out of three facing poverty toward the end of their lives if they die before retirement age[4]. 

Marie Curie is calling for urgent action to give the 25,000 people of working age who die in poverty[5] access to their State Pension, saying that the benefits system for working age people who are dying fails to protect them from falling below the poverty line. 

Having to reduce or give up work, combined with the added costs of living with a terminal illness, such as higher energy bills and paying for home adaptations and care, all contribute to the likelihood of financial hardship amongst this group, with costs rising as much as £16,000 a year[6]. 

Alongside early access to the State Pension for terminally ill people, Marie Curie is launching its Dying in Poverty campaign and petition, calling for a range of measures to help terminally ill people who are struggling with the cost of living at the end of their lives.  

The charity has welcomed recent steps from Government to allow people with a terminal diagnosis of 12 months or less to get expedited access to benefits, but warned that these changes need implementing quickly, and that much more must be done in order to eradicate poverty at the end of life. 

Melanie Armer, 48, was diagnosed with terminal metastatic bone cancer in March 2021. She lives in the Highlands of Scotland with her husband and her seven-year-old son. She says:  

“I’ve got a really aggressive form of cancer and we just can’t control it. My biggest fear is that I won’t have enough money to sustain us. I have a seven year old son and we’re having to cut back on food, electricity, and gas. We’re having to now see if we can get nurses to come round and take my bloods here instead of going to the hospital – just to try and save money on petrol.  

“With the rising heating bills, it was never a problem before, but it’s how it is now. I’ve already started stockpiling blankets and hot water bottles for next winter. I can’t even rely on things like electric blankets because of the cost of electricity going through the roof. I live in the Highlands of Scotland, which is a colder climate and as soon as my bones get cold, they hurt. It’s very painful. We have to keep the house warm, but with the energy prices going up we can’t do that. There’s no way we’re going to be able to afford it. The UK Government needs to address these issues – for everyone out there in my situation.” 

Matthew Reed, the Chief Executive of Marie Curie, says: 

“No one wants to imagine spending the last months of their life shivering in a cold home, struggling to feed themselves, their children, and burdened with the anxiety of falling into debt. But for 90,000 people a year that is their reality. It’s a far cry from the end of life that we’d all hope for. We are staggered to see the scale of poverty among dying people. Simply put, it is shocking.  

“It is clear that the working age benefits system is failing to prevent dying people from falling into poverty. The UK Government must act to give dying people early access to their State Pension. It cannot be right that people who won’t live to pension age due to terminal illness miss out when they desperately need it simply because they are not ‘old enough’ when they die.”  

Juliet Stone, from the Centre for Research in Social Policy at Loughborough University, says: 

“Our research, for the first time, not only tells us how many people die in poverty but shines a light on who these people are, where they live in the UK and the triggers, such as terminal illness, which push them below the poverty line.Although we expected to find an increased risk of poverty the end of life, we were shocked to discover the extent to which this is happening across the UK. 

“Everyone who has received a bill, filled up their car or done the weekly shop knows the cost of living is high and rising. For people with terminal illness the challenges ahead, both physically and financially, are likely to be even tougher. The number of people dying in poverty has almost certainly risen even further since the period covered by our research and will only get higher in the coming months as the cost of living crisis deepens.”  

Marie Curie’s report, Dying in Poverty: Examining poverty at the end of life in the UK, also shows how women and people from minority ethnic groups are particularly vulnerable to poverty at the end of life. The data says 28% of working age women who die spend the end of their life in poverty[7]. This rises to a shamefully high 42% among working age people from minority ethnic groups[8]. 

Analysis of the UK’s nations shows that people in Wales are at more risk of dying in poverty than in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland[9].  

When comparing local authorities, the research highlights that people living in urban areas such as London and Birmingham, along with areas in the North East and North West of England, are at a higher risk of spending their last year of life in poverty[10].   

Along with its petition to grant working age people the state pension if they have a terminal illness, Marie Curie is also calling for greater support with energy costs to be made available to all terminally ill people, regardless of their age, and for more support with the costs of childcare for terminally ill parents with young children. 

If you believe that nobody should die in poverty sign Marie Curie’s petition calling for government action mariecurie.org.uk/poverty 

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