Government plans for welfare reform will plunge cancer patients into poverty simply "because they have not recovered quickly enough", campaigners have claimed.
Macmillan Cancer Support has calculated that 7,000 cancer patients will lose their employment and support allowance (ESA) under plans to cap entitlement to some claimants' benefit at one year. Those who receive ESA on the basis of their national insurance contributions, as opposed to their income, and are deemed to have some prospect of work will only be able to claim for a year, under government proposals. ESA pays up to £94 a week for those assessed as capable of returning to work with support or training.
Ciarán Devane, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, said: "This proposal in the Welfare Reform Bill will have a devastating impact on many cancer patients. We are urging the government to change their plans to reform key disability benefits to ensure cancer patients and their families are not pushed into poverty."
"In my experience one year is simply not long enough for many people to recover from cancer," said Professor Jane Maher, chief medical officer at Macmillian Cancer Support. "The serious physical and psychological side-effects of cancer can last for many months, even years, after treatment has finished. It is crucial that patients are not forced to return to work before they are ready."
A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions pointed out that those on low incomes or those placed in the support group of ESA – meaning they too ill to have any prospect of work – would would not see any time limit on their entitlement.
Since the bill was introduced into Parliament it has been amended to automatically place people on certain types of chemotherapy in the support group.