Blaydon MP Dave Anderson led a delegation to 10 Downing Street to hand on a letter urging David Cameron to help veterans suffering from cancer caused by asbestos exposure during their time in service.
The campaign is backed by fellow Labour MPs including North Tyneside MP Mary Glindon and Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP Tom Blenkinsop, as well as former Chief of the Defence Staff Loyd Boyce, former Chief of the Naval Staff Lord West and Green and Liberal Democrat MPs.
A Ministry of Defence (MOD) spokesman suggested that Government would take the concerns seriously, saying:
“This is a complex issue but as the Minister has indicated previously, this Government is determined to ensure that all mesothelioma claimants receive fair treatment. We hope to provide a positive update over the coming weeks.”
Ministers changed the rules in December so that ex-service personnel suffering from mesothelioma caused by exposure to asbestos during their time in service can take their compensation as a lump sum rather than a pension.
But the change, which comes into effect from April, only applies to people diagnosed since December last year. It means people who were diagnosed earlier and are currently suffering from the disease – and in some cases have only months to live – are not eligible.
Campaigners say the situation is particularly unfair because civilians are able to receive compensation. Many servicemen were exposed to asbestos while working on shipbuilding sites for the Royal Navy and about 2,500 Royal Navy veterans are expected to die of mesothelioma by 2050.
The disease can take decades to become apparent but usually results in death within a year or so of diagnosis. The letter handed in to Number 10 was signed by Admiral Lord West, Professor Julian Peto, Cancer Research UK chair of epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and Dr Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, among others.
It welcomed last year’s change in the rules – but warned the UK was still failing to live up to the “military covenant”, which refers to the obligation on government and society at large to support members of the armed forces. The letter said:
“We request that all qualifying veterans be treated equally, regardless of the date of their diagnosis with mesothelioma, as is morally required under the Armed Forces Covenant.We also request that the acquisition of equal treatment for both veterans and their widows/families, be pursued by ministers with all due haste, because people are dying.”
And the letter pointed out that Mr Anderson raised the issue with the Prime Minister in November last year, when Mr Cameron told him: “I am happy to go away and look at the point that he makes.”
Mr Anderson said:
“I‘m very pleased that so many decent people are doing the honourable thing in seeking in measured and moderate terms to persuade ministers and officials to do justice to those who served their country and in return got a death sentence in the form of Mesothelioma cancer.
But I fear that their moderation will be cynically absorbed, maybe even receive emollient but empty words, but that their pleas will fail to overcome what I have come to see as a deeply cynical and shameful ploy by successive governments, sadly, to play for time and wait for those affected to die off.”
One of the victims, 74 year old Fred Minall who is facing a devastating death sentence simply because, in doing his service to our nation, he was knowingly exposed to a poisonous substance, wanted to come to London to hand over a letter to the Prime Minister calling on him to deliver on his commitment to the Armed Forces Covenant.”