SDLP Communities Spokesperson Mark H Durkan has welcomed progress on the removal of the six-month rule, which made it harder for the terminally ill to access welfare support.
Mr Durkan had long lobbied for the cruel provision to be removed and worked alongside a number of charities to get Sinn Féin Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey to change the current provision.
The Social Security (Terminal Illness) Bill was granted accelerated passage at its second stage in the Assembly on Tuesday.
Foyle MLA Mr Durkan said:
“I have long campaigned for this cruel and unnecessary measure to be changed. To ask people who have been given a terminal illness diagnosis to jump through hoops in order to access help and support is unconscionable. That we are not doing everything we can to make things easier for those suffering from illness in the final months of their lives is callous in the extreme.
“Through my work with Marie Curie on this issue I was made aware of one family that received a letter declaring their brother was fit for work on the very day of his funeral. This should never have been allowed to happen and I hope this legislation will go some way to preventing that and get those suffering from terminal illness the quick and easy access to welfare they deserve – it’s the least we can do.
“The extension of this provision to people with a year to live is welcome and will help many, but it doesn’t go far enough. I would urge Minister Hargey to take a leaf from the Scottish Government’s book and consider permitting clinicians to make the call on determining whether their patients are terminally ill without worrying about arbitrary time limits.
“People living with Motor Neurones Disease, Multiple Sclerosis and other life limiting illnesses won’t obtain a better prognosis. For them, a six-month extension won't make much of a difference and will just add to unnecessary stress at this awful time. We should be focused on support for people who have received this devastating diagnosis and their families, not judging people's need to access help based on the time they have left.”