On 10 February 2021, the House of Lords is due to debate together the following statutory instruments:

Both instruments were laid under the draft affirmative procedure. This means they must be approved by both Houses before they can be brought into force.

Mesothelioma and pneumoconiosis

Mesothelioma is a type of cancer, usually linked to exposure to asbestos and usually affecting the lungs. The NHS states that it is most likely to affect those working in the building and construction industries, particularly from the 1970s to the 1990s. More than 2,600 people are diagnosed with the condition in the UK each year.

Pneumoconiosis refers to a group of diseases, also affecting the lungs, caused by the inhalation of dust particles. The Health and Safety Executive states that it most usually affects those in workplaces such as coal mines, quarries, foundries and potteries.

Both diseases take many years to develop between exposure to the hazardous material and the onset of symptoms. The Government has described them as serious and often fatal.

Compensation arrangements

The Government has stated that, although the diseases are usually caused by employment conditions, sufferers are often not able to pursue claims for civil damages because of their long latency.

The Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) Act 1979 set up a scheme to provide lump-sum payments for such cases. A further scheme, established under the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Act 2008, widened entitlement to compensation. For example, it included the self-employed and those whose exposure was not due to work. It also provided that payments could be made to dependants, if the sufferers did not claim in their own lifetimes.

Compensation payments are based on factors such as the type of disease, the age of the sufferer and the level of disablement. For example, a qualifying sufferer from mesothelioma who was aged 60 at the time of diagnosis would currently receive £44,092. Payments to dependants are lower than those to sufferers. For example, a dependant of someone who died with mesothelioma aged 60 could currently receive £19,087.

Uprating of compensation

Many social security benefits, including other disability benefits, are increased annually according to the rate of inflation. For 2021/22, these will rise by 0.5 percent, in line with the annual increase in the consumer price index (CPI) to September 2020.

There is no statutory obligation to uprate payments for mesothelioma and pneumoconiosis under the 1979 and 2008 schemes. However, since 2004 they have also been increased annually in line with inflation. In line with this, the instruments would increase the amounts payable by 0.5 percent from 1 April 2021. The explanatory memorandums estimate that the combined cost of the increases in these schemes will be £265,000.

Debate on the 2020 uprating

The House of Lords debated the previous uprating of the two sets of payments on 3 March 2020. Baroness Stedman-Scott, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Work and Pensions, said that the schemes existed to provide compensation for the “great suffering” caused by these diseases, where no civil damages claim was possible. She stated that, in 2018/19, 3,920 people received payments under the two schemes, totalling £52.8 million.

For the opposition, the then Shadow Spokesperson for Work and Pensions, Lord McKenzie of Luton, said that the Labour Party supported the regulations. However, he called for payments to dependants to be increased to match those paid to sufferers. He also suggested that future uprating should be made automatic.

Defending the lower levels of payments to dependants, Baroness Stedman-Scott said that the schemes were intended to “target that money by giving it to the people to whom it can make the biggest difference”, ie those living with the diseases. On automatic uprating, she stated this would make “no monetary difference” and would mean losing “the opportunity to debate this important subject” in Parliament.

Parliamentary scrutiny

Both regulations were laid before Parliament on 14 January 2021.

The instruments have been considered by the House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee and the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. Neither raised any concerns.

The House of Commons debate on the instruments has not yet been scheduled.

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Cover image by Tneil Abt on Unsplash.