19 September 2011
From this week, thousands of letters will begin to land on the doorsteps of those who are too unwell to work - including cancer patients and those with severe mental health problems. This letter will inform them that their vital out-of-work benefit, Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), may be stopped in April 2012 because of changes in the Welfare Reform Bill – despite the fact that the Bill is still being debated in Parliament. The Government will spend £2.7m on sending the letters from a contingency fund.
Under current proposals in the Welfare Reform Bill, many cancer patients and people with severe and complex mental health problems will have their ESA removed after one year irrespective of whether they are well enough to return to work. Macmillan Cancer Support estimates 7,000 cancer patients will lose up to £94 a week. In March an alliance of 30 cancer charities, including Macmillan, wrote an open letter to the Government expressing concern about the Bill and opposing ESA time-limiting.
Ciarán Devane, Chief Executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, says:
“Though we understand that the Government should alert people in advance to any changes to their benefits, the Welfare Reform Bill is not even close to being passed and yet the Government is already behaving as if it is. They are laying the groundwork for ESA time-limiting despite many Lords opposing the plans just last week at Second Reading. Lords will no doubt be angry that claimants are being told they could lose their benefits before they have had the opportunity to debate the proposals in detail.
“The letters will cause a great deal of distress to thousands of cancer patients and their families who will be left wondering whether their vital financial support will be taken away or not. We will continue to urge the Government to think again.”
The mental health charity Mind has found that in many cases the prospect of welfare reform is causing serious mental distress for benefit claimants. Mind’s Chief Executive Paul Farmer says:
“We know that the prospect of changes to benefits can be very stressful for the people who rely on welfare whilst they are too unwell to work, and since the Welfare Reform Bill began its life, our InfoLine has seen a significant increase in the number of people calling, distressed and terrified that their benefits are going to be cut off.
“It doesn’t matter if you receive ESA for depression, cancer or any other health problem, this letter will be a bolt from the blue for many which could have a catastrophic impact on their mental wellbeing.
“It is very alarming that the Government is pressing ahead with these plans without considering the anxiety that their actions will cause, and we worry that these letters could potentially impede claimants’ return to health.”
Macmillan Cancer Support and Mind wants the Bill amended so everyone eligible for ESA who has paid into the system will receive it for as long as they need it. The charities also believe it is unacceptable to make sick and disabled people wait six months to access Personal Independence Payment (PIP).
For further information, please contact:
Sarah Ross, Senior Media and PR Officer, Macmillan Cancer Support
020 7840 4722 (out of hours 07801 307068)
Vicki Prout, Media Officer, Mind
0208 215 2298 (Out of hours 07850 788 514)
Notes to Editors:
 Welfare Reform Bill (Employment and Support Allowance - Time Limiting - Contingency Fund Advance) DWP Ministerial Statement: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmhansrd/cm110907/wmstext/110907m0001.htm#11090752000007
At the Welfare Reform Bill Second Reading the benefits letter is mentioned (13 Sep 2011: Column 632): http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201011/ldhansrd/text/110913-0001.htm#110913102000436
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 (contributory) 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 94% of people 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.
Macmillan estimates that 7,000 cancer patients will be affected by this change. This figure is based on estimates of the number of cancer patients on contributory benefits who are in the Work-Related Activity Group of ESA or currently claiming Incapacity Benefit but will be placed in the Work-Related Activity Group following the reassessment of all Incapacity Benefit claimants.
In response to a recent parliamentary question the Government estimated that 94% of all contributory ESA claimants in the Work-Related Activity Group will require ESA for longer than one year.
2. 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. More than one in three of us get cancer. Two million of us are living with it. If you are affected by cancer Macmillan can help.
Mind is the leading mental health charity in England and Wales. All money raised by the Veolia Charity of Year partnership will help Mind to continue to provide vital support, advice and information for the 1 in 4 people who experience a mental health problem in any one year.