Friday 13th July 2012
Policy Analyst Tom Cottam on Macmillan’s campaign to ensure the benefits system works for people living with cancer. You can email Tom or call him on 020 7091 2050
Macmillan research shows that 70% of people with cancer experience a fall in income or an increase in costs following diagnosis, while 40% of all the calls to the Macmillan Support Line are about financial concerns.
Learning how to navigate the benefits system is a necessity for many people with cancer. It’s for this reason that Macmillan took a close interest in the Welfare Reform Bill, now the Welfare Reform Act.
The act will have profound implications for many people affected by cancer. These include the introduction of a single, Universal Credit to replace the current system of means-tested benefits and tax credits; a new Personal Independence Payment (PIP), which will replace Disability Living Allowance, and include a new face-to-face assessment for new and existing claimants; the limiting of contribution-based Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) to 12 months for those in the work-related activity group; and changes to the way crisis loans and community care grants are administered.
At the start of 2011, Macmillan launched a campaign to highlight the impact of these changes on people affected by cancer, and to encourage the government to think again. The campaign had three priorities aimed at protecting people with cancer from some of the most worrying of the government’s proposals:
1. We called on the government to make it easier for people undergoing cancer treatment to apply for ESA. At the moment, despite being in the middle of often gruelling treatment, many people with cancer are made to attend stressful medical assessments before they can get ESA.
2. We opposed government plans to limit ESA for many sick and disabled people to 12 months. Many people with cancer, who want to return to work, need more than 12 months to do so.
3. We called on the government to scrap plans to double the waiting period, from three to six months, for PIP. Waiting six months would make an already tough situation worse.
Due to the hard work of those involved and the dedication of our supporters, including a number of Macmillan professionals, the campaign was a huge success. The cause was taken-up with zeal by MPs and Lords. Nearly 20,000 people signed our petition, while the campaign received considerable attention in local and national media. However, most importantly, the campaign led to real change.
The government acknowledged the need to ensure more people undergoing cancer treatment should be able to apply for ESA without a stressful medical assessment. It also committed to protect people with cancer from the full impact of time-limiting ESA by making sure they receive the benefit earlier. Proposals to extend the waiting period to six months for DLA (PIP from 2013) were scrapped.
Building on the success of the last year, Macmillan will continue to push for changes to ensure the benefits system works for rather than against people with cancer. However, this will only be possible with the ongoing support and knowledge of Macmillan professionals. Crucially, people affected by cancer will need the support and expertise provided by Macmillan professionals and Macmillan’s services to help them understand the impact of the changes and ensure they get financial support when they need it most.
How Macmillan can help people claim benefits
In the video below, Macmillan Welfare Rights Team Leader, Sean Conroy explains how Macmillan can help people affected by cancer to access benefits.