Westminster wants cancer patients to prove they are unfit for work


by a Newsnet reporter

The UK government has been strongly criticised by cancer charities and opposition parties after it emerged that that cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy or intravenous chemotherapy will have to prove that they are unfit for work.  Currently cancer patients unable to work while undergoing the fatiguing and debilitating treatments are automatically entitled to employment support allowance (ESA), worth up to £100 a week.

However buried deep in a report commissioned by the Conservative LibDem government, an Independent Review of the Work Capability Assessment, is the recommendation that cancer patients lose this right, meaning that they could be called to attend interviews at a job centre in order to prove their incapacity for work.   The author of the report, Professor Malcolm Harrington, is the official advisor to the government on reforms to benefits payments to the disabled and people suffering from illness.  

The government report claims that the automatic entitlement of cancer patients to the benefit stigmatises the disease, fails to recognise the variation in debilitation which the treatments create in different individuals, and is unfair to cancer patients who wish to remain at work.  The report also claims that the entitlement has encouraged dependency on benefits.  Prof Harrington concludes that the present system is “encouraging wrong behaviours from employers and stigmatising cancer as something that can lead to unemployment or worklessness”.

The proposed changes mean that cancer patients receiving chemotherapy or radiotherapy will have to prove to job centre staff that they are too ill to work.  Cancer patients will now have to attend the controversial work capability assessements in order to prove their eligibility for employment support allowance.  These assessments have been widely criticised by health charities for passing people as fit for work when they are manifestly unfit.

If cancer patients are deemed to be fit for work, they may have to attend practice job interviews and comply with other requirements from job centre staff.  

Speaking to the Guardian newspaper, Ciarán Devane, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “Cancer patients in the middle of treatment are, in many cases, fighting for their lives.

“Yet the government is proposing to change the rules so all cancer patients will have to undergo a stressful assessment to prove they are unable to work.

“This shows a clear disregard and misunderstanding of what it’s like to undergo punishing treatment.  Patients who previously had peace of mind would face the stress and practical difficulties of getting assessed for work they are too poorly to do.

“To make matters worse, the government is pressing ahead with proposed changes in the welfare reform bill that will make 7,000 cancer patients lose ESA after 12 months simply because they have not recovered quickly enough.  We hope ministers will rethink these proposals.

“Cancer is the toughest fight many people will have to face; the government should not be making it tougher for them.”