Welfare Reform Act 2012

In February 2011, the government announced plans to make sweeping changes to the welfare system and tabled the Welfare Reform Bill in Parliament. Macmillan agreed that the system needed to be simplified. But the proposals laid out in the Welfare Reform Bill, could have pushed some people with cancer and their families into poverty. That’s why we campaigned to ‘Put the Fair into Welfare’.

We identified three ways the Bill should be changed so that people with cancer wouldn't lose vital benefits. The Bill was finally passed by parliament and the Welfare Reform Act became law in March 2012.

Everyone eligible for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) should receive it for as long as they need it regardless of their financial circumstances

Under the government’s proposal, people eligible for ESA who have paid National Insurance but are not considered severely ill, will only receive it for one year. After this time receiving it will be dependent on your financial circumstances. This would have pushed some people affected by cancer into poverty as it can often take longer than a year to return to work after a cancer diagnosis.

The government response:

More cancer patients will be placed into the Support Group where support is unconditional and not time-limited and without the need for a stressful face-to-face assessment

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Different types of treatment shouldn’t affect the benefits you receive

Cancer patients who received non oral chemotherapy were considered to be severely ill and automatically received ESA. However, those receiving oral chemotherapy or radiotherapy had to undergo an assessment and may have had to do job interview practice to get ESA. The side effects of cancer treatment can be debilitating regardless of how it is administered. Patients receiving oral chemotherapy and radiotherapy should be automatically eligible for ESA too.

The government response:

People awaiting, undergoing and recovering from all types of chemotherapy and radiotherapy will be treated the same, with the intention being they are placed in the Support Group.

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People who have face additional costs because of a disability or health condition should receive support as soon as they need it

To receive Disability Living Allowance (DLA) you have to prove that for the last three months you’ve needed additional support because of your disability. This could include support with transport costs or additional care. The government wanted to double the time you would have to wait to six months rather than three months before you can receive this support when the benefit changed from DLA to Personal Independence Payments (PIP).

The government response:

The time you have to wait to apply for PIP remained at three months. However, you are expected to need additional support for nine months compared to six months required for DLA. Find out more about our campaign to reduce PIP waiting times.

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Julian, from Crystal Palace, received ESA after treatment.

'I had to leave work as I was in constant pain and experienced severe fatigue. I was really worried that the Government would take away ESA from someone in my position after just one year. Before I got ESA we were really struggling to pay the rent and bills. I fully intended to return to my job and did what I could to ensure that happened as soon as possible, but the simple fact is that it can take a long time to recover from cancer.'

Julian, from Crystal Palace, received ESA after his treatment for cancer. He is pictured with greying hair and a grey cardigan.

How did we influence the Welfare Reform Bill?

We launched a campaign to influence every stage of the Bill’s passage through parliament. We wanted to change the Bill so that cancer patients would not lose out on vital benefits.

A Bill’s progress through Parliament can be confusing. Find out about the steps involved on the Parliament website.

First reading in the House of Commons

February 2011: The Welfare Reform Bill 2012 enters parliament

The first reading of a Bill represents its formal presentation to Parliament. Because MPs have not yet had a chance to review its content there is usually no accompanying debate.

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Second reading in the House of Commons

March 2011: Macmillan campaigners raise awareness of the issue with 80% of MPs 

The government first debated the welfare reform proposals on 9 March 2011. Thanks to over 2,200 campaigners writing to over 80% of MPs, 13 MPs spoke outagainst benefit cuts for people with cancer. To coincide with the debate, we wrote a letter to the government, signed by 29 other cancer charities, about the Welfare Reform Bill's impact on people living with cancer. Read our letter to the government [PDF, 316 KB].

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Committee stage in the House of Commons

April-May 2011: A government committee reviewed the issues we had concerns about

Between April and May 2011, following the Bill's second reading, 26 MPs were invited to form a government committee and take a closer look at the Welfare Reform Bill. With the help of our campaigners and Macmillan welfare rights advisers, we made sure these MPs debated our issues and gave serious consideration to our concerns. Here's what happened: 

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

  • We wanted cancer patients receiving oral chemotherapy and radiotherapy to automatically receive ESA, without being medically assessed first.

We were delighted when the Minister for Employment agreed to implement recommendations, which would be made following an independent review into ESA. We worked closely with the review to influence its recommendations around patients receiving oral chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

  • We campaigned to ensure all cancer patients who can't work because of their condition receive ESA for as long as they need it.

Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs challenged the government’s plan to limit the amount of time people can claim ESA. The government stated that this change was necessary because it would save significant amounts of money.

Disability Living Allowance (DLA)

We were campaigning to ensure cancer patients get support with the extra costs of cancer, as soon as they need it.

  • Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs asked the government to reconsider its plans to extend the qualifying period before receiving DLA. The government maintained that six months was an acceptable amount of time for people with a long term condition to wait.

We knew we still had work to do to make sure the welfare system doesn't let people with cancer down. However, the Minister's comments during committee stage helped us to strengthen our arguments. Next, we looked to securing more support as the Bill progressed to report stage, which would provide all MPs with the opportunity to propose and vote on changes to the Bill.

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Report stage and Third reading in the Commons

June 2011: Macmillan worked with MPs from the three main political parties to ensure that our concerns were raised

ESA

On the first day of report stage, MPs ran out of time to debate the Bill which meant our concerns around ESA were not discussed. However, our hard work was not wasted. Ed Miliband, who was the leader of the opposition at the time, raised our points at Prime Minister’s Questions. He highlighted the negative impact that time-limiting contributory based ESA could have on people living with cancer. 

PIP

The following day MPs discussed extending the qualifying period for PIP, which was to replace DLA. The qualifying period is the length of time someone has to wait before they are able to apply for PIP. Macmillan argued that people with cancer already struggle to cope with the current three month qualifying time, and extending it to six months could be disastrous for many. While Ministers expressed their willingness to listen to our concerns, but a proposed change to the Bill which would have retained the current qualifying period was rejected. 

Third reading

Immediately after the report stage concluded, the Bill had its third reading. Again discussion returned to Macmillan’s campaign against time-limiting ESA. This marked the Bill’s passage through the House of Commons and it moved to the House of Lords for consideration.

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First and second readings in the House of Lords

September 2011: Lords discuss our campaign and Lib Dems vote against the ESA one-year time limit

The Bill was first debated in the House of Lords on 16 June 2011. The second reading was then delayed until Tuesday 13 September. We published a Second reading briefing for Peers [PDF]. Our campaign, and the impact that some of the proposed changes could have on people affected by cancer, was talked about extensively.

On Saturday 17 September, the Liberal Democrats, at its party conference, voted to support a motion calling on the government to scrap plans to take away a person’s ESA after just one year. This was great news and improved our chance of changing the Bill as it progressed through the House of Lords.

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Committee stage in the House of Lords

November 2011: Lords table an amendment to the Bill opposing the ESA one-year time limit

Crucial amendments to the Welfare Reform Bill were debated in the House of Lords on 8 November 2011. The amendments discussed supported our campaign against plans to take away a person’s ESA after just one year. Lord Patel tabled an amendment to the Bill opposing the one-year time limit. Macmillan’s other concerns about the impact of the Bill on people with cancer were discussed at length by a number of other Lords during the debate.

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Third reading and report stage in the House of Lords

January 2012: Lords reject ESA one-year time limit for cancer patients

On Wednesday 11 January the House of Lords backed an amendment by Lord Patel to exempt cancer patients from plans to time limit ESA. We strongly supported Lord Patel’s amendment. We would now need to work hard to persuade MPs to support the amendment when the Bill returned to the House of Commons in February.

During the report stage, the government announced that it would reduce the amount of time cancer patients would have to wait to qualify for PIP from 6 to 3 months. We warmly welcomed this announcement. Read our reaction.

Consideration of amendments

February 2012: Government forces through ESA one-year time limit

The House of Lords’ amendment to the Welfare Reform Bill exempting cancer patients from plans to time limit ESA was rejected by MPs on 1 February 2012. Read our response to the vote here. MPs voted in favour of a time limit for cancer patients despite evidence from a poll commissioned by Macmillan which revealed overwhelming public opposition to the idea. However, the government promised to consider ways to lessen the impact of this change on cancer patients as part of the Act’s regulations and guidance.

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Consideration of amendments

The House of Lords’ amendment to the Welfare Reform Bill exempting cancer patients from plans to time limit ESA was rejected by MPs on 1 February 2012. Read our response to the vote here. MPs voted in favour of a time limit for cancer patients despite evidence from a poll commissioned by Macmillan which revealed overwhelming public opposition to the idea. However, the government promised to consider ways to lessen the impact of this change on cancer patients as part of the Act’s regulations and guidance.

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Royal Assent

March 2012: Welfare Reform Act becomes law

The Welfare Reform Bill was passed by parliament and the Welfare Reform Act became law in March 2012. Our attention turned to influencing the guidance which would accompany the Act to ensure more cancer patients were placed into the Support Group without the need for a stressful face-to-face assessment, where support is unconditional and not time-limited.

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Consultation on the Work Capability Assessment

January 2013: Campaign success as government agrees that support for people awaiting, undergoing and recovering from chemotherapy and radiotherapy should be unconditional and not time-limited

In September 2012 the government consulted on changes to the Work Capability Assessment, which Macmillan responded to. Read our response [PDF]. We also got together with 11 other cancer charities to write this letter [PDF] to the Employment Minister, Chris Grayling MP, about the Work Capability Assessment.

Following our campaign, the government confirmed changes to ESA which meant that cancer patients who are awaiting, receiving, and recovering from treatment would be placed in the Support Group, where help is unconditional and not subject to the one-year time limit. The ‘vast majority’ of cases will be decided on medical evidence, rather than having to undergo a stressful Work Capability Assessment. The changes meant that all chemotherapy and radiotherapy patients would be treated in the same way when applying for ESA. Read Macmillan's response here.

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