I was delighted to see Ed Miliband raise so passionately the issue of 7,000 cancer patients who will lose all employment and support allowance after one year (Miliband puts Cameron under pressure over coalition plan to cut cancer patients’ benefits, 16 June). As you report, “Complex changes to eligibility for employment support allowance [previously incapacity benefit] for some groups could result in as many as 7,000 cancer patients losing up to £94 a week in sickness benefit.”
This is an issue that many sickness and disability campaigners such as myself have been urgently trying to raise awareness of for months. As the article pointed out, however, David Cameron “did not seem to be aware of the detailed measure in the bill, even though it has been raised for months in parliament and the media”.
Seven thousand cancer patients losing eligibility is outrageous, but an even greater scandal is that 700,000 seriously unwell people in total are affected, not just those suffering from and recovering from cancer. Many of those with fluctuating conditions such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, schizoprenia, kidney failure, heart disease and others will also lose this £94, and it is the only state support many of them receive. Many now look set to become entirely dependent on the goodwill of a partner.
The government claims we can’t afford to pay people – who have paid their national insurance contributions – who remain seriously ill for more than a year. They claim those who are this unwell will go into the employment and support allowance “support group”, therefore qualifying for long-term support; but just 6% of those assessed are considered eligible for this, and everyone else will lose all their contributory ESA benefit within one year.
The government argues that we simply can’t afford it, and that “these people have other forms of support”. What, if any, is this support? As your article pointed out: “The means testing threshold is so low that a … patient could lose all ESA benefit if his or her partner earns more than £7,500 per year.”
Could any one of us support a seriously unwell partner – possibly indefinitely – on just £7,500 a year? As Miliband pointed out: “These are people who have worked hard all their lives, who have done the right thing, who have paid their taxes and when they are in need, the prime minister is taking money away from them.”
Time-limiting ESA ends the contributory principle that if you have paid tax and NI all your life and find yourself suddenly too ill or disabled to work, the state will provide a safety net. That net is now only extended to those with less than six months to live or those who are so profoundly physically or mentally disabled that they are unable to function alone. The other 700,000 seriously unwell or disabled people are about to lose everything.
Whenever Cameron refers so carefully to the “most vulnerable”, perhaps we should remember the many more who are “terribly vulnerable” but who no longer count.
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