Macmillan Cancer Support has strongly criticised a Department of Work and Pensions decision to propose changes to the benefits system which could have devastating consequences for many thousands of cancer patients. Under the plans being consulted on, seriously ill cancer patients in the middle of gruelling intravenous chemotherapy treatment will be forced to prove they are too sick to work. Some patients will have to face back-to-work interviews or be denied a crucial benefit – Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
This is despite unambiguous recommendations from cancer experts and 30 cancer charities who have clearly stated that patients going through debilitating cancer treatment – and who have to leave work – should be automatically eligible for ESA.
Until now, cancer patients receiving non-oral chemotherapy have been exempt from work-focused interviews and medical assessments to determine whether they may be fit for work, while oral chemotherapy or radiotherapy patients have not been given this protection. Cancer charities, representing the views of patients, have asked the DWP to end this discrepancy as the side-effects of oral chemotherapy and radiotherapy can be just as physically debilitating as non oral chemotherapy. However, instead of extending exemptions to particularly vulnerable cancer patients, the DWP is proposing to remove these from all.
This announcement also comes despite the Government’s repeated assurances that they had no interest in making it harder for cancer patients to access benefits while they are undergoing debilitating treatment and would reverse changes introduced only months ago to extend protection to patients awaiting chemotherapy.
Ciarán Devane, Chief Executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, says:
“Cancer patients in the middle of treatment are, in many cases, fighting for their lives. Yet the Government is proposing to change the rules so all cancer patients will have to undergo a stressful assessment to prove they are unable to work. This shows a clear disregard and misunderstanding of what it’s like to undergo punishing treatment. Patients who previously had peace of mind would face the stress and practical difficulties of getting assessed for work they are too poorly to do.
“To make matters worse, the Government is pressing ahead with proposed changes in the Welfare Reform Bill that will make 7,000 cancer patients lose ESA after 12 months simply because they have not recovered quickly enough.
“We hope Ministers will rethink these proposals and listen to the clear views of the cancer community. Cancer is the toughest fight many people will have to face, the Government should not be making it tougher for them.”
Macmillan has launched a petition to call on the Government to make changes to the Welfare Reform Bill: www.macmillan.org.uk/welfarepetition