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The politics of cancer: the mesothelioma compensation scheme

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Earlier this year the government launched a scheme to compensate mesothelioma victims who cannot trace an insurer – but the numbers don’t quite add up. Justice for those with mesothelioma must mean recompense in their lifetime. If not, the living will have failed them again.


Surrounding the personal trauma of being diagnosed with a work-related cancer is a complex web of economic history, social class and money. From the original exposure to a carcinogen to the endless wait for compensation, too many men and women who worked hard to build the fabric of our economy and society – often in heavy industries that have passed away -  feel that justice has not being on their side.

Mesothelioma is by far the largest of the group of occupational cancers and is caused by exposure to asbestos (approx 2,300 out of 8,000 estimated occupational cancers each year). It is a debilitating and painful disease, and the life expectancy of sufferers following diagnosis is short, usually between 10 and 24 months. It is this fatal speed that means any process for compensation must be swift if justice is to be served.

This year’s Mesothelioma Act 2014 (which came into force on 28 November) has been created to recognise that given its 20-50 year latency period, many people who contract the disease are unable to sue the responsible employer or claim insurance. In that long period between exposure and diagnosis, many businesses have dissolved and details of insurance cover have vanished. Leaving the question of how to ensure compensation is available, sufficient and quick?

The act set up the Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme which pools money, funded by the insurance industry (in particular the employers liability insurers), to pay sufferers, plus an added sum to cover legal costs (typically about £7,000). Payments are age-related, so someone in their 40s will likely receive a higher payment than someone over 90.

According to original government estimates, 900 people are likely to qualify for support in 2014, with a further 300 expected to get assistance in each of the following nine years. That means in total about 3,600 people should get compensation through this scheme. This means an estimated total payment over 10 years (based on an average payment of £126,000, see below) of £450m.  

The scheme began taking applications on 6 April 2014, and started making payments from 1 July 2014. By October 2014, the scheme has received 232 applications and made 131 payments, totalling £16.5m. The total first year payment is estimated at £32m, with an average payment to date of around £126,000.

The numbers don’t quite add up.

At the current rate, the insurance industry looks like paying about £320m over 10 years – over £100m less than originally estimated, and this number could drop if the current ratio of applicants to payment continues. Is this because there is less money being promised by the insurance industry, fewer people are coming forward to make a claim or fewer awards given?  

There are further questions: does the insurance industry pay the full or proportion of the costs? What is the nature of the undisclosed agreement between the government and the insurance industry?

The act, welcome though it is, does not of course address the needs of the majority. Again, we can see the numbers. The few hundred each year who are eligible to apply is dwarfed by the total number of mesothelioma sufferers. About 2,300 people die every year of the disease and numbers are set to increase over the next 30 years, with an estimated death toll of between 56,000 and 63,000.

This means of course that by far the majority of sufferers will have to fight an existing business and/or insurer to receive compensation. They will have to prove negligence in a court and will not have their fees covered. According to the Association of British Insurers “the legal process for mesothelioma claims can be complex, lengthy and expensive.” This needs to improve.

It’s all very well to pay homage to our industrial past by creating heritage parks, but we also need to pay back what we owe to those people who worked in them. Justice for those with mesothelioma must mean recompense in their lifetime. If not, the living will have failed them again.  

- See more at: https://old-sm.britsafe.org/politics-cancer-mesothelioma-compensation-scheme#sthash.PRnePSlN.dpuf

Surrounding the personal trauma of being diagnosed with a work-related cancer is a complex web of economic history, social class and money. From the original exposure to a carcinogen to the endless wait for compensation, too many men and women who worked hard to build the fabric of our economy and society – often in heavy industries that have passed away -  feel that justice has not being on their side.

Mesothelioma is by far the largest of the group of occupational cancers and is caused by exposure to asbestos (approx 2,300 out of 8,000 estimated occupational cancers each year). It is a debilitating and painful disease, and the life expectancy of sufferers following diagnosis is short, usually between 10 and 24 months. It is this fatal speed that means any process for compensation must be swift if justice is to be served.

This year’s Mesothelioma Act 2014 (which came into force on 28 November) has been created to recognise that given its 20-50 year latency period, many people who contract the disease are unable to sue the responsible employer or claim insurance. In that long period between exposure and diagnosis, many businesses have dissolved and details of insurance cover have vanished. Leaving the question of how to ensure compensation is available, sufficient and quick?

The act set up the Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme which pools money, funded by the insurance industry (in particular the employers liability insurers), to pay sufferers, plus an added sum to cover legal costs (typically about £7,000). Payments are age-related, so someone in their 40s will likely receive a higher payment than someone over 90.

According to original government estimates, 900 people are likely to qualify for support in 2014, with a further 300 expected to get assistance in each of the following nine years. That means in total about 3,600 people should get compensation through this scheme. This means an estimated total payment over 10 years (based on an average payment of £126,000, see below) of £450m.  

The scheme began taking applications on 6 April 2014, and started making payments from 1 July 2014. By October 2014, the scheme has received 232 applications and made 131 payments, totalling £16.5m. The total first year payment is estimated at £32m, with an average payment to date of around £126,000.

The numbers don’t quite add up.

At the current rate, the insurance industry looks like paying about £320m over 10 years – over £100m less than originally estimated, and this number could drop if the current ratio of applicants to payment continues. Is this because there is less money being promised by the insurance industry, fewer people are coming forward to make a claim or fewer awards given?  

There are further questions: does the insurance industry pay the full or proportion of the costs? What is the nature of the undisclosed agreement between the government and the insurance industry?

The act, welcome though it is, does not of course address the needs of the majority. Again, we can see the numbers. The few hundred each year who are eligible to apply is dwarfed by the total number of mesothelioma sufferers. About 2,300 people die every year of the disease and numbers are set to increase over the next 30 years, with an estimated death toll of between 56,000 and 63,000.

This means of course that by far the majority of sufferers will have to fight an existing business and/or insurer to receive compensation. They will have to prove negligence in a court and will not have their fees covered. According to the Association of British Insurers “the legal process for mesothelioma claims can be complex, lengthy and expensive.” This needs to improve.

It’s all very well to pay homage to our industrial past by creating heritage parks, but we also need to pay back what we owe to those people who worked in them. Justice for those with mesothelioma must mean recompense in their lifetime. If not, the living will have failed them again.  

 

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