Benefits for cancer patients 'must be paid for longer'

Macmillan: Cancer patients require financial support for longer than 12 months

Government urged to amend Welfare Reform Bill

Almost 7,000 cancer patients could lose up to £94 a week if the Government presses on with its plan to limit the payment of employment support allowance (ESA), according to Macmillan Cancer Support.

The charity is concerned that patients will lose "critical financial support at a time when they need it most" if the Government retains it plans in the Welfare Reform Bill to limit ESA payments to 12 months for claimants allocated to the work-related activity group (WRAG) by assessors. Most people with cancer need longer than this to return to work successfully, the charity argues. Claimants may receive benefit for longer if they are means tested but the charity argues that the threshold is so low that all benefit could be lost if the claimant’s partner earns more than £7,500 a year. The charity wants the time limit to be removed or extended to at least two years.

In a briefing on the Bill, due to be debated again in Parliament today, the charity also highlights "sharp inequalities" in the way that cancer patients are assessed for benefits, depending on the nature of their treatment. Currently, while those receiving treatment via a drip are allocated automatically to receive ESA, those receiving oral chemotherapy or radiotherapy have to undergo a medical assessment for eligibility and may still be placed in the WRAG group to prepare for returning to work.

Macmillan has campaigned in recent years to highlight the lack of return to work services provided to cancer patients by the NHS. According to the charity, more than half (53%) are not advised on the impact of their cancer diagnosis on their working life and how they can manage their condition and they are less likely to get workplace adjustments as prescribed by the Equalities Act. 

Last year income protection provider Unum reported that claims from employees with cancer were up 44% over the course of the decade, resulting in a growing demand for tailored rehabilitation services. Cancer accounted for 19% of claims in 2009 and two-thirds of these claimants referred after more than six months of absence eventually returned to work. Cases referred earlier have a lower return to work rate but Unum still encourages employers to notify them early of cancer claims.

"It's very important psychologically for many cancer patients to be thinking positively about their future," said Joy Reymond, head of Unum's rehabilitation and health management service. "We used to think of cancer as a death sentence and it's really now, because of advances in medicine, more of a life sentence as people are now living with cancer or recovering from it.

While she believes that the return to work is a positive move for cancer patients, Reymond says that decisions about the timeframe must be made based on the individual's needs.

"Many people do return to work within that year or a lot sooner but there is no guarantee," she said. "For those who may appear to have some work readiness that will change depending on how their treatment goes and for some it will be a very slow process or they may never return to work. The benefit of income protection  is that we assess what your need is and if you need payment for an extended period of time it is there."

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