In Derbyshire, East Midlands, UK, an asbestos support group has expressed alarm over the fact that the government, under UK Prime Minister David Cameron, a Conservative, reportedly plans to exclude it as part of representation aimed at speeding up payments to those who have filed claims for asbestos-related illnesses.
The Derbyshire Asbestos Support Team, or DAST – the support group under fire – advocates primarily for mesothelioma victims and their families.
Established in March of 2002, by the Trade Union Safety Team, or TRUST, DAST addresses the needs of an increasingly large group of those in the UK who have asbestos-related illnesses, and offers an easier way to access disease information, find social support webs, and identify sources of financial compensation and assistance.
DAST helps victims of asbestos-related disease fill out forms, find available benefits, locate counseling services, and post for civil compensation. DAST is a reputable registered charity which has earned the Legal Services Quality Mark. DAST also offers its services for free, accepting only donations.
Quality Mark is the designation given to a group of legal quality assurance standards that help identify ethical legal service providers. Because the standards are created to insure that a legal services provider is well run and supports ethical behavior goals, the Quality Mark classification has become the gold standard for reputable legal services.
DAST, which also provides public education about the dangers of asbestos, provides home-based assistance, and conducts regular support meeting for asbestos-related disease victims, had hoped earlier this year to form part of a Jack Straw-organized working group to more rapidly and fairly process payments to victims of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.
The reason was simple; most UK residents were dying before they got compensation. The working group was part of a larger controversy surrounding an October 2007 decision, by the Law Lords (equivalent to the U.S. Supreme Court), that ruled that the presence of pleural plaques did not equate to an actionable asbestos claim; this even though such plaques had long been identified as one of the hallmarks of asbestos exposure.
Reportedly, Jack Straw, Justice Secretary, eventually overruled the Law Lords, saying that – since a conclusion from medical evidence offered during consultation was not possible – their ruling should instead be changed to an “open-ended” compensation scheme.
Straw’s working group was supposed to be comprised of lawyers, trade unions, insurors, the judicial systems, government employees and support groups. However, a question from Stephen Hepburn, MP (Jarrow) to Health Minister Simon Burns on the last day of the last parliamentary session may result in support groups being excluded from the process – a restriction that has already occurred among union representatives, according to the Mirror, an online news source.
Now reportedly, according to Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon), the working group will be composed only of claimants’ legal representatives, insurors, and the judiciary – a rather narrower field of inquiry than first suggested.
Joanne Carlin, DAS spokeswoman, expressed the organization’s concern, namely that the new UK government represents a lot of new faces who may not even be familiar with the asbestos illness issues.
The failure to include union representatives has also aroused the ire of the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians, a group that represents 125,000 construction and building workers in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. General Secretary Alan Ritchie (UCATT) has called this exclusion “cynical and deliberate”, in that the unions are not (like politicians, presumably) interested in protecting profits.
Sources indicate that at least 1 out of every 10 people afflicted with an asbestos-related illness in the UK is unable to get any form of compensation because his or her employer has gone out of business and company insurors can’t be traced.
As a result, asbestos-related disease campaigners like DAST want to create an Employers’ Liability Insurance Bureau, funded by existing insurors, to pay victims. According to David Trigg, chairman of DAST, the fund would work the same as the Motor Insurer’s Bureau, which pools a fund of contributions from every insured UK driver and uses it to pay victims of uninsured (or underinsured) drivers.