Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016

We’ve been campaigning against a proposal in the Welfare Reform and Work Bill to cut Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) by £125 a month for some people with cancer. Although the cuts to ESA have gone ahead, our campaign has helped to raise awareness of the impact of cuts to support on people affected by cancer.

  • We campaigned against a proposed cut to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) in the Welfare Reform and Work Bill which would mean a £125 a month reduction in income for some people with cancer.
  • We’re concerned that cuts to support will hit people at a time when they are already facing increased financial hardship as a result of their cancer.
  • Although the cuts to ESA have gone ahead, our campaign has helped to raise awareness of the impact of cuts to support on people affected by cancer.

Ahead of the 2015 election, the government promised that its welfare reform programme would be underpinned by a commitment to ensuring that the disabled and vulnerable ‘should always be protected’. However, we were concerned that some proposals within the Welfare Reform and Work Bill risked leaving people with cancer without crucial financial support at a time when they need it most.

In particular, we were concerned by proposals in the Bill to cut Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) by £125 a month for some people with cancer. We believe this cut, which will apply to new claimants in the work-related activity group from 2017, will hit people at a time when they are already facing increased financial hardship as a result of their cancer.

Lynn, from Edinburgh, received the work-related activity element of ESA when she was too ill to work after treatment for breast cancer.

'When I was ill, I had to give up work for a year. I couldn’t work – the chemotherapy knocked me for six and I just wanted to sleep all day. It was horrendous. I couldn’t pay my mortgage, my council tax. I thought I was going to lose the house. Then I got Employment Support Allowance. 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 have been homeless.'

Lynn Laing standing outside of her house. Lynn was helped by ESA WRAG benefits whilst she was recovering from cancer.

Thank you

Over 7,000 Macmillan campaigners wrote to their MP to ask them to protect support for people affected by cancer while they are too ill to work. Thank you to everyone who took the time to raise the issue with their MP.

Despite the concerns raised, MPs voted to go ahead with the £125 a month cut to ESA for new claimants in the work-related activity group from 2017, and the Welfare Reform and Work Bill has now become law. We're disappointed by this result, but your support has helped to raise awareness of the issue, sending a clear signal that thousands of us oppose this cut. Since the vote on ESA, the government has decided not to go ahead with other planned changes to Personal Independence Payments which would have made it harder for people with cancer to access support.

A closer look at the Welfare Reform and Work Bill 2015

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.

Find out about the steps involved in the passage of a Bill on the Parliament website.

First reading in the House of Commons

July 2015: The Welfare Reform and Work Bill 2015 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. The Bill entered Parliament the day after the emergency budget was announced, which included the proposal to cut ESA for people in the work-related activity group.

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Second reading and Committee stage in the House of Commons

July-October 2015: The proposals to cut ESA are debated by MPs.

The second reading of the Bill in the House of Commons took place on 20 July 2015. Evidence from Macmillan on the impact of the cut on people with cancer was mentioned several times during the debate.

Following the second reading, we began to amplify our campaign alongside other members of the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC). In August 2015 we responded to a speech by Iain Duncan Smith on sickness benefits, urgently calling on the government to rethink the reduction in payments for those in the work-related activity group. Read our response here.

We also submitted written evidence to the Committee in advance of committee stage (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201516/cmpublic/welfarereform/memo/wrw10.htm), when MPs have the opportunity to debate and amend the Bill. Concerns about the impact of the cut on people with cancer were raised by MPs throughout the debate.

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Report stage and Third Reading in the House of Commons

October 2015: The government rejects amendments on ESA and Universal Credit; Macmillan ramps up its campaign activity.

In October, we launched a campaign action so that supporters could easily tweet their MP, making them aware of the impact that the cut would have before Third Reading. This generated wider awareness of the issue on social media. We also got our messages out through the media, highlighting that almost 400,000 people with cancer struggle to pay bills because of their diagnosis, and that at least 120,000 UK cancer patients depend on charity to cope financially. As part of the DBC we also highlighted that the cuts would make people return to work later.

The Bill progressed to Report stage and had its Third Reading in the House of Commons on 27 October 2015. Labour and SNP MPs put down amendments on the cut to ESA which, if passed, would have removed these proposals from the Bill. However when put to a vote, the amendment was defeated by 315-287. An amendment to the Bill was also tabled by a Conservative MP but this was not put to a vote.

The government also debated delays to Personal Independence Payments (PIP) during the Report Stage. Find out more about our campaign on PIP.

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Second reading in the House of Lords

November 2015: Lords debate the contents of the Bill

We continued to push our message in the media in advance of the debate in the Lords, highlighting that 200,000 people with cancer are living in deprivation.

On 17 November 2015, the Bill had its second reading in the House of Lords. The most commonly raised issue throughout the debate was the proposed cut to ESA. Opposition to the cut came from across the political spectrum. crossbench peer Lord Patel defended the rights of people living with and beyond cancer who stood to be harmed by the cut. He referred to research by Macmillan and other cancer charities which found that one in four of the 2 million people in England living with and beyond cancer face disability or poor health following their treatment.

Responding, Lord Freud, Minister of State for Welfare Reform, stated that the planned cut was intended to “provide the right incentives and support” to bring people back into work.

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Committee stage in the House of Lords

December 2015: Lords table an amendment to stop the ESA cut.

In advance of the Bill moving to Committee stage, we highlighted that cancer patients can’t afford Christmas in the media.

The Bill moved to Committee stage on 7 December 2015. There was significant support for Macmillan's concerns around the proposed cut.. Lord Patel introduced an amendment that would prevent the cuts coming into force until the government could demonstrate that they would support people into work without having a detrimental impact on people’s financial situation or health, citing evidence from Macmillan, Rethink Mental Illness and Parkinson’s UK to support his position.

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Report stage in the House of Lords

January 2016: Lords vote against government proposals to cut ESA.

In advance of the next stage of the Bill, we highlighted that benefit cuts put cancer patients at risk of homelessness.

The Bill moved to Report stage on 25 January 2016. During the day’s debate, Lords voted against the government’s proposals to cut support for new ESA claimants in the work-related activity group. Read our response to the Lords’ vote:

Following this, the Bill would return to the House of Commons, and MPs would have to vote on whether to uphold the Lords’ decision to remove the clauses. In advance of this stage, we launched a campaign action to help people to write to their MP, urging them to support the Lords’ decision to stop the cut.

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Consideration of amendments

February 2016: Despite concerns raised, MPs vote to go ahead with the cut to ESA

7,000 people took action and wrote to their MP about the impact of the proposed cut on cancer patients, reaching 100% of MPs in England. Thanks to our campaigners we were able to raise awareness of the impact of the cut on people with cancer.

Unfortunately, while 279 MPs voted to stop the cut, 306 MPs voted to go ahead, meaning that the government’s proposal was passed. The cut will apply from April 2017 to new ESA claimants who are placed in, or move into the work-related activity group. People who are currently in the Support Group and move into the work-related activity group after this date will be protected from the cut.

As a result of Macmillan’s past campaigns, the majority of ESA claimants who are awaiting, receiving, and recovering from treatment for cancer should be placed in the support group, rather than the work-related activity group. This means the number of people affected by the cut is lower than it might have been without our previous campaigning activity. While we weren’t able to stop these cuts, we will be continuing to campaign on welfare issues to ensure that new claimants with cancer who claim ESA from 2017 receive the financial support they need.

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Royal assent

March 2016: The Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016 becomes law

The Welfare Reform and Work Bill received Royal assent and became law – known as the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016 – on 16 March 2016, the day the government presented its budget.

The budget also contained worrying proposals that could make it harder for people with cancer to claim Personal Independence Payments. However, the government has since decided not to go ahead with these changes. We’ve welcomed this decision, but are still urging the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to reconsider the damaging changes to ESA. Read our response here.

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