DSS criticised over asbestos claims, as cancer rate rises

While Clydeside workers who were exposed to asbestos in the 508 continue to fight for compensation, the deadly material is still being imported to Britain, discovers Stephen Naysmith.

Campaigners who forced a govemment rethink on compensation for asbestos victims are calling for a complete ban on the use of the substance and warn that the already high death toll is still rising.

Asbestos. a fibrous material whose dust has been linked to a host of lung diseases known loosely as asbestosis. is still being imported into Britain in large quantities for construction and the ill effects on those working with it can take decades to show.

Earlier this month. an all-party parliamentary select committee criticised the workings of the Department of Social Security's compensation recovery unit. The unit enables the DSS to claim back the cost of any invalidity benefits paid to sufferers of asbestos-related illness from compensation awards. It claws back a proportion of any compensation above £2500. which in many cases has amounted to more than balfthe total paid to asbestos victims.

John Birnie worked for two Clydeside shipyards during the 1950s. as a result at 68 his lungs are now crippled by asbestosis. After a four-year legal battle. he was awarded £40,000 in compensation last y ‘ar. but three- quarters of the payout went back to the DSS. Birnie is terminally ill and cannot leave the house because he needs to stay close to his respirator.

Birnie believes he was due proper compensation money. arguing that it isn‘t as if he wants to live his last years in luxury. ‘The full amount would have helped compensate for years of agony. for going everywhere with my oxygen tank.‘ he says.

The select committee report proposes that employers or their insurers should be responsible for paying back benefit

Workers at the Turner and Newalls factory in 1953; 40 years on. all are dead, many from asbestos-related illnesses

to the taxpayer. but says asbestos sufferers should be allowed to keep their compensation payouts. The I recommendation was welcomed by Tam Campbell. information officer for Clydeside Action on Asbestos. who lost his father to asbestos-related lung disease. However he points out that it is unlikely there will be time fora change to the law before 1997. ‘Until then people will still lose out to the

‘Glasgow is the asbestos- related cancer capital of the world. The industry started in

Glasgow and nowhere has a history of greater use.’

Clawback. so we are calling fora moratorium in the intervening period.‘ Campbell says.

Any change to the law is unlikely to apply retrospectively. so those who have already lost out would not be reimbursed. ‘We are looking for recognition that these people have been unfairly treated.‘ says Campbell. ‘We can‘t just turn round to them now and say “thanks very much. we‘ve won the argument“.'

The Construction Safety Campaign. a

UK group which lobbies for building workers‘ rights. believes the issue of compensation for existing asbestosis sufferers has diverted attention from workers‘ continuing exposure to asbestos. ‘Britain is still the largest importer of asbestos in Europe.‘ says CSC‘s Scottish spokesman Jonson Green. ‘The new proposals by the social security committee are not enough. and winning compensation is not enough. We want asbestos banned completely.’ CSC aims to pull together diverse action groups on asbestos from around the country in time for a rally in November.

Campaigners say the scale of health problems which are linked to exposure to asbestos dust is horrendous. and the govemment and medical establishments are only just beginning to get to grips with it. Clydebank. where the Turner and Newalls asbestos factory employed hundreds of workers in the 1950s. has 500 times the national average for diseases linked to asbestos. ‘Glasgow is the asbestos-related cancer capital of the world.‘ says Campbell. ‘The industry started in Glasgow and nowhere has a history of greater use. It will never be known how many people died from it.‘

The select committee report now predicts a live-fold increase in cases of tnesotheliorna. a type of lung cancer specifically related to asbestos exposure. with a peak expected in 2025 by which time 10.000 will be suffering. But Clydeside Action warns that medical predictions on asbestosis and other diseases have been consistently wrong since the 1950s.

However ("ampbell points out that the disposal of asbestos is still a major problem and (‘lydesidc Action still faces the grim task of dealing with new cases. ‘None of this addresses the environmental aspects of it every public building in (ilasgow is riddled with asbestos.‘ he says. ‘\\'e have people who come in here with mesothelioma thinking they are good for another 20 or 30 years ~ we have to tell them they will be lucky to get 20 weeks.‘

Campbell sees the legacy of the asbestos industry all around him: ‘It is the same haunted. gaunt look you see in the pubs of(}ovan and (‘lydebank People who didn‘t know might think it was down to poor health or bad diet. but you justhave to look at the industrial past of the areas to see the cause.‘

I Totally surreal An important collection of surrealist art will stay in Scotland after the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art secured £3 million from the National Lottery‘s heritage fund. The collection of Sir Ronald Penrose is currently on loan to the gallery. but the cash will enable it to put the paintings and drawings. which include works by Salvador Dali. Max Ernst and Picasso. on permanent display. ‘We are now poised to create a Dada and Surrealist Study Centre of international merit.‘ says the gallery's keeper Richard Calvocoressi. ‘As has been proved by the spectacular success

of recent exhibitions in London. Picasso and Surrealism are now as popular as French lrnpressionisrn.‘

I Closing time Pubs and clubs in Edinburgh could be forced to close earlier. following Glasgow‘s example in standardising licensing hours across the city. Under the proposed scheme which will be considered by the licensing board next week. pubs throughout the city would close at lam and clubs at 3am. A club ‘curfew‘. which sets an earlier time for last entry. may also be imposed. The proposed changes are the result of widespread concern about large numbers of young people roaming the streets looking fora late dn'nk.

I Going alone Nikkie du Preez. one of the directors of Edinburgh-based charity Bosnia Now. set off this week to drive alone to Tuzla where she will deliver aid funds donated by Scottish people horrified at the latest horrors in the former Yugoslavia. Bosnia Now can be contacted on 0131 652 1600.

I local hero A Drurnchapel community health volunteer has won an award of a £1000 cheque from Scottish Education and Action for Development. Loraine Houston won the award for her work with the Drurnchapel Community Health Project where she has been a volunteer for the last five y ‘ars. Houston has been involved in several health initiatives in

Drurnchapel. including campaigning for safe play areas and running support groups for tranquiliser users.

I Carving a niche Plans to commission two renowned sculptors. Ian Hamilton Finlay and Peter Randall-Page. to produce works for Edinburgh‘s Hunter Square moved on with the announcement of a £80,000 National Lottery grant. Fund-raising is continuing for the two sculptures which would be the centre piece of the new pedestrian area which is being created in the square. Hamilton Finlay is to cast four pairs of bronze fruit baskets. while Randall-Page will produce a two-metre limestone vessel brimmingwith water.

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