11 January 2016
Even with sick pay and ESA, Lynn got into arrears with her mortgage and council tax payments
Cancer patients could be at risk of losing their homes if proposed government cuts to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) go ahead, according to new research commissioned by Macmillan Cancer Support.
A survey of nearly 1,000 people living with cancer in Britain found that one in ten (10%) would struggle or be unable to pay their rent or mortgage if they lost £30 a week.
This is the amount the Government is proposing to cut in 2017 from those who receive the ‘Work Related Activity’ element of ESA benefit – a group of people assessed as currently too ill to work, but capable of returning to work at some time in the future.
While Macmillan’s research shows 10% of cancer patients could face homelessness if they lost £30 a week, the risk is drastically higher for those in receipt of ESA.
Of the 78 people in the survey who received this benefit, more than one in three (36%) said they would be unable or would struggle to pay their rent or mortgage if the benefit was cut by £30 a week – almost a third of the entire benefit.
Macmillan Cancer Support is calling on the Government to remove the proposed £30 a week cut to the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) from the Welfare Reform and Work Bill.
Janice Preston, head of Macmillan in Scotland, said: “We know cancer has a huge financial impact and this research shows that any cuts to benefits could have devastating results.
“We hope the Westminster Government will rethink their proposals to make cuts to Employment and Support Allowance.
“Anyone with cancer who has been affected by financial problems should get in touch with our benefits advice services so we can make sure they are getting all the support they are entitled to.”
Around 5000 people with cancer currently receive the ‘Work Related Activity’ element of ESA which entitles them to £102.15 a week.
Macmillan says this is a benefit that many people with cancer will be in receipt of at some point during their lives, so cuts will affect many more than the 5000.
Existing Macmillan research shows that living with cancer can be extremely expensive and many people already face financial strain after their diagnosis. Most will incur extra costs, such as transport and heating, as a result of treatment at the same time as they are left unable to work.
Lynn Laing, 55, from Edinburgh, received the Work Related Activity element of ESA after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010.
She had a mastectomy and then went through chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment during which time she was signed off sick from her job as a receptionist in a doctor’s surgery.
“It was horrendous,” says the mother-of-one. “I couldn’t work. It was the tiredness - I was physically exhausted. I couldn’t get my head off the pillow. The chemotherapy knocked me for six and I just wanted to sleep all day. Then I was in and out of hospital for six months afterwards with various infections.”
Even with sick pay and then Employment and Support Allowance, Lynn and her husband Charles, who was in temporary employment, got into arrears with their mortgage and council tax payments.
“The solicitors were going to put us out of the house,” says Lynn. “I got some money from Macmillan which I used to pay the mortgage and keep the wolves from the door.
“If they cut the ESA, that would just be absolutely horrendous. I would hate to have had that done to me. Without it, we would probably have been homeless.
“I’m back working 30 hours a week trying to pay everything back. I’m not fully back to normal but I’m getting there. It’s left a lot of emotional scars and a lot of psychological problems.”
Find out more about how you can get involved in this campaign.
People affected by cancer who have financial worries or need benefit advice can visit the financial support section of our website or call us free on 0808 808 00 00.