7 December 2009
Terminally ill cancer patients, and people undergoing chemotherapy, are being threatened with benefit cuts if they do not attend back-to-work interviews, warn leading charities, Macmillan Cancer Support and Citizens Advice.
A new report by the two charities has found the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) process, introduced last October to encourage ‘job ready’ people to return to work, is failing seriously ill and disabled people, despite assurances from the government that they would be safeguarded from the system.
Findings from the report, Failed by the system , show:
Terminally ill cancer patients, and people receiving non-oral chemotherapy, are being required to undergo medical examinations and attend work-focused interviews, when they should be automatically exempt from both.
People undergoing, or recovering from radiotherapy and inpatients are being refused ESA when they should automatically qualify for the benefit.
Cancer patients suffering from the long-term effects of cancer or cancer treatment are failing the medical assessment and being refused ESA.
Patricia Watson from London was on a career break and about to start a new job when she was diagnosed with terminal bowel cancer. She said:
'I was so shocked when I received a letter asking me to go to an assessment centre during my third cycle of chemotherapy. I was told that if I didn’t attend the interview my benefits would be stopped. No one was thinking about my condition or applying any common sense, I just felt part of a conveyor belt system.”
According to the report, poor knowledge of ESA rules among Jobcentre Plus and DWP medical staff, inadequate administration systems and a lack of understanding about cancer and the effects of treatment, is resulting in ESA claims being incorrectly handled. Some terminally ill people are dying before they get the financial support they needed.
Since April 2008, Citizens Advice Bureaux in England and Wales have dealt with over 85,000 enquiries about ESA and Macmillan’s benefits helpline has taken over 600 calls about the benefit since May this year.
Mike Hobday, Head of Campaigns at Macmillan Cancer Support, said:
'It’s cruel and completely unacceptable that people who are terminally ill or going through gruelling treatment are being made to jump through hoops to get money they should receive automatically. The safeguards to protect cancer patients clearly aren’t working, and the ESA system is riddled with problems. The DWP must address these issues without delay to make sure people living with cancer are spared unnecessary distress and financial hardship.'
Lizzie Iron, Head of Welfare Policy at Citizens Advice, said:
'Citizens Advice Bureaux are reporting significant evidence of a range of problems with delivery of the ESA system which are causing real hardship to the most vulnerable when things go wrong. People claiming ESA are frequently seriously ill with urgent needs. It is important that the claiming process works smoothly so that people do not get stuck in the system or are unable to get through on the phone. DWP and Jobcentre Plus must rectify these problems quickly and put more safeguards in place so people do not continue to suffer.'
Citizens Advice also publishes the first of a series of papers on ESA today. Limited capability sets out concerns that the number CAB enquiries relating to poor administration of the new benefit is higher than expected, and that there has been an accompanying sharp increase in CAB qualitative evidence on these issues.
To read the reports, visit www . macmillan.org.uk/failedbythesystem or www.citizensadvice.org.uk. .
For further information, please contact:
Macmillan Cancer Support
020 7840 4699 (out of hours 07801 307068)
0207 812 5481 (out of hours 07792 295083)
Notes to editors:
The report is based on case reports from Macmillan and Citizens Advice benefits advisers helping people living with cancer claim ESA.
ESA was introduced in October 2008 to replace Incapacity Benefit and Income Support.
To claim ESA, people have to take part in a ‘work capability assessment’ during an initial 13-week assessment period. This may include completing a questionnaire and/or going to a medical assessment. People deemed to have a limited capacity to work, are placed in a ‘support’ group and do not have to undertake work-related activity. If they are found to be able to work, they are placed in a ‘work-related activity’ group and have to attend work focused interviews.
The work capability assessment primarily determines whether the claimant is entitled to ESA. The test contains a series of questions, called "descriptors", that relate to physical and mental functions, and from which claimants score points. It focuses on specific physical functions, such as reaching, bending and continence. A claimant must score 15 points to be deemed to have limited capacity for work.
During the 13 week assessment period, claimants are paid up to £50.95 if they are under 25 and up to £64.30 if they are 25 or over. After this period, those in the work-related activity group are paid up to £89.90 and those in the support group are paid up to £95.15. If someone isn’t eligible for ESA they can claim Jobseeker’s allowance.
Macmillan and Citizens Advice are recommending:
Jobcentre Plus ensure contact staff and advisers are fully trained and aware of the ESA rules
An independent review of the work capability assessment to determine if it is effectively capturing the problems and disabilities faced by people with cancer
Jobcentre and ATOS medical assessors are equipped to ask claimants the right questions to gather accurate and substantial evidence about their cancer treatment so that they are correctly assessed for ESA.
Macmillan Cancer Support funds positions in 68 Citizens Advice Bureaux to provide a specialist service to people affected by cancer.
People needing help with their ESA application can speak to a Macmillan benefits adviser on 0808 808 00 00 or find a local Citizens Advice service at www.citizensadvice.org.uk.
Citizens Advice is publishing further papers on ESA which will look at problems with the work capability assessment, decision-making and appeals and the use of sanctions in the ESA process.
Approximately one in five people living after cancer treatment develop significant long-term emotional, psychological and physical problems that seriously affect their quality of life (e.g. depression, incontinence, psychosexual problems, heart disease, new cancers).
Approximately 90,000 people of working age are diagnosed with cancer each year in the UK, according to the Department of Health’s Cancer Reform Strategy, Dec 2007.
There are 774,000 people of working age in the UK who have had a cancer diagnosis according to King’s College London and Macmillan’s Cancer prevalence in the UK , 2008.
About Macmillan Cancer Support
Macmillan Cancer Support is a UK charity working to improve the lives of people affected by cancer. We provide practical, medical, emotional and financial support and push for better cancer care. We have developed a network of cancer specific, local benefits advice provision to support people affected by cancer.
About Citizens Advice
The Citizens Advice service is a network of 416 independent Citizens Advice Bureaux that helps people resolve their money, legal and other problems by providing free, independent and impartial advice from more than 3,000 locations in England and Wales and by influencing policymakers.