Commenting on the Welfare Reform Bill published by the Government, Mike Hobday, Head of Policy at Macmillan Cancer Support, said:
'The Government needs to look again at the impact their proposed welfare reforms will have on people with cancer and their families. While we warmly welcome the Government's attempts to simplify the benefits system, we are concerned that the cumulative impact of some of the reforms will push numbers of cancer patients and their families into poverty.
'Proposed changes to Employment and Support Allowance and Disability Living Allowance in particular will result in many cancer patients losing vital support. Living with cancer is expensive and often means having to leave work. In these circumstances, it is crucial that cancer patients get the support they need to help them cope with their condition and live as independently as possible.
'We urge the Government to legislate to ensure that changes to the benefits system do not penalize people for having cancer at the time when they are most in need of support. We look forward to working with the Government to make sure people with cancer receive the support they need, when they need it most.'
1. Time-limiting Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
After applying for ESA some people living with cancer will be placed in the ESA Work-Related Activity Group (WRAG). This means they are required to do work-related activities in order to receive their benefit. The Government is proposing that people who claim ESA based on their National Insurance contributions (contributions-based) and are placed in the WRAG should only be able to claim this benefit for 12 months before it is means-tested. After one year a claimant whose partner works more than just 24hours or earns only £149 per week would lose all of their ESA.
People living with cancer who are placed in the ESA Support Group don't have to carry out work-related activities to get their benefit. People in the Support Group will not be affected by this change.
Macmillan's healthcare professionals are clear that many people living with cancer will need longer than 12 months before they are ready to return to work. The Government's own statistics show that 75% of people with cancer who are placed in the WRAG need ESA for longer than 12-months.
Macmillan believes that people with cancer who have worked and paid into the system before becoming ill should be supported, without risk of their ESA being cut after a year.
2. Exemptions for cancer patients claiming Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
In recognition of the debilitating effects of their treatment, cancer patients undergoing certain treatments are automatically eligible for ESA and are placed in the Support Group without having to undertake a medical assessment.
However, at the moment this exemption only includes cancer patients who are undergoing non-oral chemotherapy. It excludes those undergoing oral chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
In the opinion of Macmillan's specialist nurses and Chief Medical Officer, oral chemotherapies and radiotherapy are in very often just as physically and psychologically debilitating as non-oral chemotherapy. Oral chemotherapies are being used increasingly in place of non-oral chemotherapies, but the side-effects are no less severe. In some circumstances, cancer patients will be given a choice about whether they receive oral-chemotherapy or non-oral chemotherapy. In these circumstances, their clinical choice will affect how they are treated in the benefits system.
Macmillan believes that cancer patients awaiting, undergoing or recovering from oral chemotherapy or radiotherapy should be automatically assigned to the ESA Support Group, just as those receiving non-oral chemotherapy are.
3. Disability Living Allowance (DLA)
The Government is proposing that DLA should be replaced with a new benefit called Personal Independence Payment (PIP). As part of the new benefit the Government wants to double the period that someone is required to demonstrate need before they make a claim for benefit from 3 months to 6 months. However, cancer treatment results in a sudden onset of daily living and/or mobility needs. The need for help with daily living and getting around can start immediately and escalate rapidly. Making cancer patients wait for 6 months before they can even apply for vital support is simply unfair.
Macmillan believes that people who experience a sudden onset of debilitation which is likely to be long-term should be entitled to apply for PIP as soon as their support needs arise. About Macmillan Cancer Support
Macmillan Cancer Support improves the lives of people affected by cancer, providing practical, medical, emotional and financial support. Working alongside people affected by cancer, Macmillan works to improve cancer care. One in three of us will get cancer. Two million of us are living with it. If you are affected by cancer Macmillan can help.
Call the Macmillan Support Line on 0808 808 00 00, Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm. Calls are free, including from mobiles or visit www.macmillan.org.uk
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