Thousands of cancer patients could lose support payments used to pay for daily living costs like heating, transport and special dietary needs because of the Government’s welfare cuts, the country’s leading cancer charity has warned.
Macmillan said the reforms, which would see some cancer patients who are too ill to work losing up to £120 a month in Government support, could push vulnerable people “over the edge financially”.
Currently, sick and disabled people too unwell to work and eligible for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) are assigned to one of two groups – the support group, for people with problems so severe they have no prospect of working, or the work-related activity group (WRAG), who have to attend interviews with employment advisors.
Under the Government’s Welfare Reform and Work Bill, WRAG payments, which are designed to enable people who are unwell to pay for extra costs associated with their health condition, will be cut from £102 to £73 a week.
For cancer patients, the money often goes on heating bills, because cancer increases vulnerability to cold; new clothing, often required because of weight loss or to cover swellings or colostomy bags; and extra nutritional food to ensure a healthy recovery.
As of February this year, around 3,300 cancer patients were in the WRAG group. Although the changes, due to come into effect in 2017, will only affect new claimants, Macmillan has warned this could quickly lead to thousands of cancer patients missing out.
Both Labour and Conservative MPs have voiced concern about the cuts, with many seeing a parallel with the controversial plans to slash tax credit payments for working people.
Lynda Thomas, chief executive of Macmillan said: “Every sector has a duty to protect people with cancer from further financial turmoil…The Government must reconsider these plans or risk pushing the most vulnerable over the edge financially.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Work and Pensions said the majority of cancer patients are placed in the support group and pledged people with cancer would “continue to get the support they need through the benefits system”.
George Osborne told MPs that he was “comfortable” with the tax credit cuts, which will see around three million families lose up to £1,300 a year. On Wednesday the Prime Minister also drew criticism after describing his “delight” that the reforms had been voted through.
Labour’s Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said both comments were “shameful”.
Appearing before the Treasury Committee, Mr Osborne also said the Government had “signalled” that the cuts were coming during the election campaign. The Conservatives went into the campaign pledging £12bn in welfare cuts, but did not give detail on what those cuts would involve.
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