A GOVERNMENT minister says help is finally at hand for families left devastated by a killer cancer caused by exposure to asbestos.
In the last 30 years, almost 150 people from Hartlepool after died from mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer strongly linked to heavy industry.
But with many of the sites linked to the disease having closed down following the demise of many of the heavy industries, families battling for compensation for victims have struggled to claim damages.
Mike Penning, Minister of State for Work and Pensions, has revealed a breakthrough which has set aside a £380m pot of funding which will be used to compensate mesothelioma victims.
Mr Penning said: “The shipbuilding industry of Hartlepool has brought with it jobs and opportunities for scores of local people.
“Few would have ever thought earning your keep from doing a hard day’s work could bring with it hidden dangers. But exposure to asbestos has devastated families across the region.
“Despite being banned in 1999, people are still living with the toxic effects, with many battling unsuccessfully for years for reparation.
“Almost 150 people in Hartlepool have tragically lost their lives over the past 30 years to the aggressive cancer mesothelioma. It’s particularly endemic in areas with heavy industry.
“It’s a crippling disease, which can take 40 and 50 years to present symptoms, but once diagnosed leaves victims with just months to live.”
New regulations will come into force this month which could see victims and their families claim a six-figure compensation package.
The scheme will be funded by an industry-wide levy on current employer’s liability insurance providers, and will also pay for more research into a cure for the disease.
Mr Penning, who guided the debate through the House of Commons, added: “Over 300 sufferers every year struggle to find a relevant party to sue for damages because their ex-employer’s become insolvent or insurance records have gone missing. It’s a serious issue that’s sadly been ignored by successive governments. Until now.
“After hard negotiations with the insurance industry, I’m pleased to say that from this month anyone diagnosed with mesothelioma since July 2012 will be able to apply for compensation worth up to £123,000.
“The families of loved ones will also be able to apply posthumously.
“This scheme represents a major breakthrough for the many victims of this terrible disease. Politicians and the insurance industry have for years ignored the plight of the innocent victims of this awful disease. It will end years of injustice that has left many tragic victims and their families high and dry.
“As we approach what experts believe will be the high-water mark of diagnosed cases in 2016, I can assure over 3,500 families will benefit over the next 10 years from this £380m package.
“Until now sufferers have at best scraped a few thousand pounds from statutory schemes. By striking a deal with the insurance industry we have secured substantially higher packages of support that will help 800 people or their families in 2014 - and 300 every year after that. They will also get £7,000 towards legal expenses.”
For more information on mesothelioma, visit www.cancerresearchuk.org/cancer-help/type/mesothelioma