Merseyside asbestos victims will be hit by closure of specialist site, warns city MP

After meeting a constituent suffering from an asbestos-related disease, Liverpool Walton MP Dan Carden is calling for the Department for Work and Pensions to stop the planned closure of Phoenix House in Barrow, a site which processes specialist claims for work-related illness.

James Queen of Broadway, Liverpool, was recently diagnosed with mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lung caused by the inhalation of asbestos. Supported by the Merseyside Asbestos Victims Support Group (MAVSG), James reached out to his MP, Dan Carden, and booked an appointment at the MP’s constituency surgery.

Phoenix House specialises in processing Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit, Pneumoconiosis compensation, and the mesothelioma Scheme, among others. ‘The Pneumo’ as it is commonly called is the only centre in the UK that administers the applications and provides a lump sum to support patients financially.

MAVSG says that the Government intends to move the workload to Barnsley and cut the jobs of experienced staff in Barrow, meaning that the fast-tracking of claims will take longer.

The latest HSE report on the disease reported that there were 2,544 mesothelioma deaths in Great Britain in 2020, a rise of 6% compared with 2019, but similar to the average of 2523 deaths per year over the previous 8 years. The report added that there were 459 female deaths in 2020, a rise of 7% compared with 2019 and higher than the average of 416 deaths per year over the previous 8 years. This is consistent with predictions that there will continue to be 400-500 female deaths per year during the 2020s.

James Queen of Broadway, Liverpool, said:

“Since being diagnosed with mesothelioma, I have been helped by the Merseyside Asbestos Victims Support Group who completed all the claim forms for the benefits I am entitled to. I was informed that they work with the fast-tracking team at the DWP’s  Barrow-in-Furness office. The Barrow staff have over 20 years’ experience of helping people like me who didn’t have a clue what we were entitled to. The benefits I currently receive have been a Godsend to me and my family.

“It’s disgusting that the Government can propose this move. I have worked all my life and have never claimed a penny until now. It saddens me that future patients with these sinister terminal diseases are having the service to fast-track these claims cut along with the other 41 walk-in centres destined for closure.”

Dan Carden, MP for Liverpool Walton, said: 

“I was deeply moved by my meeting with James, who told me all about the vital support he has received from Phoenix House.

“This is a specialist service providing welfare benefits to terminally-ill workers after negligent exposure to asbestos. If the next Prime Minister cares about the victims of this scandal, one of their first acts must be to step in to stop its closure.

“It is unthinkable that people like James could be robbed of the support they are entitled to by brutal and short-sighted cuts.”

John Flanagan, Support Officer for the Merseyside Asbestos Victims Support Group (MAVSG) said:

“These cuts are a slap in the face for the older generations of workers whom consecutive governments have previously supported. They now face the challenge of more hurdles being put in their way to claiming the welfare benefits to which they are entitled.

“I urge people, particularly those with a family member who has ever been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease to contact their MP to demand that this vital issue is addressed by the new Prime Minister.”

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