Good news for mesothelioma sufferers and their families can often turn to disappointment. In February, the government announced that from the 1st April 2018, measures would be introduced to increase the value of lump sum payments paid under the Diffuse Mesothelioma Payments Scheme, 2008. At the same time, an increase would also be applied to those who receive payments under The Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) Act, 1979.
An increase in relief for victims of asbestosis disease, especially the fatal mesothelioma cancer of the lung linings, is of course, always welcomed. However, the payment is actually only being increased by 3 per cent, allegedly in line with the current inflation rate.
Little real financial relief to be gained
When the measures were announced in the House of Commons, it was pointed out that the payment increase was in line with the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rather than with the Retail Price Index (RPI), which many suggest indicates the real rate of inflation, currently running at 4 per cent.
However, the latest March CPI stands at 3 per cent, a drop from 3.7 per cent, the lowest in 7 months.
There appears to be little real financial relief to be gained by victims, and the increase a repeat of what happened at the same time last year when a payment increase for the scheme was announced, which was the first for three years. As now, the increase was linked to the CPI but at 1 per cent, was actually lower than the CPI rate of 1.6 per cent.
The Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) Act, 1979… provides a lump sum compensation payment to those who have one of five dust-related respiratory diseases covered by the scheme – including diffuse mesothelioma, and bilateral diffuse pleural thickening – but who are unable to claim damages from employers because they are no longer in business.
The Diffuse Mesothelioma Scheme… was introduced in October 2008 to help victims who are unable to claim compensation under the 1979 Pneumoconiosis Act because they were not occupationally exposed while handling asbestos at their workplace.
However, the scheme does not make provision for mesothelioma victims found to be non-occupationally exposed to asbestos as a result of:
Secondary exposure – caused by a wife or daughter handling/washing asbestos-contaminated work-clothes /overalls and boots brought home to be cleaned each night by the victim.
Environmental exposure – affected inhabitants living close by to asbestos-using factories who breathed in airborne fibre dust.
Non-specific exposure – where the cause cannot be exactly pinpointed despite a confirmed diagnosis of an asbestos-related disease.
Highest payments go to the youngest victims
It should be noted that while all payments under The Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) Act, 1979 and The Diffuse Mesothelioma Scheme 2008 scheme are made at the 100 per cent disablement rate, they are based on age. This means that the highest payments go to the youngest victims with the disease, despite more than three quarters of mesothelioma sufferers being aged over 75 at least.
According to government figures, a total of 3,620 people received payments under both schemes, 2016 – 2017. However, more than more than half of the 8,000 work-related cancer deaths recorded each year are still caused by past exposure to asbestos, and 3,500 victims of asbestos exposure are also known to be unable to trace their employer or liability insurer.
Considerable pay gap
Concern was also raised in the House of Commons over the considerable gap between payments made to victims and payments to their dependants. More than 8 years have elapsed since a commitment was made to close the gap, although the issue was raised again in 2017, but with no further action. The estimated cost to make the payment equal is around £5 million a year.
Meanwhile, The Health and safety Executive (HSE) forecast that the average annual mesothelioma toll of 2,500 could continue at the same level or even higher beyond the current expected peak in 2020.