VICTIMS of asbestos poisoning have been "betrayed" after the government quietly dumped plans for a compensation fund, it was claimed last night.
A proposal for a "fund of last resort" of up to £400m - to help former workers unable to trace the employers who exposed them to asbestos dust has been dropped, a trade union said.
And a separate plan for a national research centre for mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases has also been abandoned, The Northern Echo can reveal.
Both proposals were put forward in a consultation that concluded 15 months ago, but ministers have said nothing since - an extraordinary delay for government proposals.
Jim Kennedy, the political officer of the UCATT union of construction workers, said: "The government is betraying people with mesothelioma - there is a deafening silence about this.
"Ministers won't formally say that this scheme has bitten the dust, but we are confident it has.
"The insurance lobby is extremely powerful - it was difficult enough to make progress under the Labour government and this Coalition government is less sympathetic to what is a class issue."
More than 2,000 people - mostly men - died from mesothelioma across the North-East over the 25 years to 2005, because of its history of heavy industry.
Among the many uses of asbestos was as insulation in ships - exposing workers during fitting out and ship breaking - with carpenters, joiners, plumbers and heating engineers also at particular risk.
Among the blackspots, taking into account size of population, were South Tyneside (240 deaths), Hartlepool (97),
Sunderland (288). Stockton-on-Tees (154) and Redcar and (108). Cleveland
But the death toll is expected to rise sharply, with 61,000 men expected to die nationwide over the next four decades - peaking at around 2,040 fatalities in 2016.
In January 2010, Labour promised the ringfenced fund - the Employers Liability Insurance Bureau, largely funded by the insurance industry - as part of a £70m package.
It came amid a fierce backlash when ministers said future sufferers from 'pleural plaques' - a condition that can trigger mesothelioma and lung cancer - could not win compensation.
The proposal for a research centre has definitely been dumped. A department for health (DoH) spokesman said: "The idea was raised with the previous administration, but no agreement was reached."
However, a department for work and pensions (DWP) spokeswoman denied the "fund of last resort" had been abandoned.
She said: "We are still considering how to make progress and will bring forward proposals in due course."
Source: The Northern Echo. By Rob Merrick. 15 August 2011