Benefit cuts will make patients homeless

by Daphne Liddle

THE CANCER charity Macmillan Support has warned that planned cuts to the benefits of the long-term sick could see cancer sufferers unable to keep up with their rent or mortgage and facing eviction from their homes while they are trying to fight the disease.

The House of Lords in January threw out the cuts that would affect people in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) — these are the people who are seriously ill but might at some time in the future be able to do some work.

But the Tory government put the cuts to Employment Support Allowance (ESA) back in the Bill last week.

Their ESA will be cut in 2017 from £102.15 to £73.10 a week, which is equal with Jobseeker’s Allowance.

Macmillan says this is a big drop that is likely to leave many unable to afford their rent or mortgage and thus facing eviction.

According to new research carried out by Truth Consulting and commissioned by Macmillan, a survey of nearly 1,000 people living with cancer in Great Britain found that one in ten would be unable, or would struggle, to pay their rent or mortgage if they lost £30 a week.

For those currently receiving ESA the proportion is much higher; 36 per cent said they would be unable or would struggle to pay their rent or mortgage if the benefit was cut by £30 a week.

Latest Government figures show at least 3,200 people with cancer currently receive the WRAG element of ESA — the benefit the Government is proposing to cut by almost a third. Macmillan warns this is a benefit that many people with cancer will be in receipt of at some point during their lives, so cuts will affect many more.

The charity is calling for a halt to Government plans. Existing Macmillan research shows that living with cancer can be extremely expensive and many people already face financial strain after their diagnosis. Most will incur extra costs, such as transport and heating, as a result of treatment at the same time as they are left unable to work.

The research demonstrates how reducing these vital funds even further would push people over the edge financially.

Dr Fran Woodard, executive director of policy and impact at Macmillan Cancer Support says: “The devastating impact that changes to Employment and Support Allowance will have on the lives of people with cancer is clear. “It’s truly distressing to think that people with cancer could be forced out of their homes or fear a knock on the door from bailiffs at a time when they should be focused on recovering.

“Macmillan, along with a number of other health charities, has been calling on the Government to remove their proposed cuts to Employment and Support Allowance from the Welfare Reform and Work Bill since they were announced in July. They have so far refused to listen to us.

“As the Bill moves to its final stages, the Government can no longer ignore the reality of what they’re doing. They desperately need to rethink these proposals.”

But Iain Duncan Smith is moving ahead with the cuts regardless of the appeal from several charities not to cut ESA.

But the Tories are not unanimous on this. Tory backbencher Heidi Alexander is not happy with this cut. In a speech she made an 11th-hour plea for her own party to find “the compassion to look after the little man”.

She added: “Today I will not support the government. Today I may abstain, but only for today.”

Rob Holland of learning disability charity Mencap added: “The opposition across society to this cut is overwhelming. People with a learning disability will be disappointed to see the Government continue to try and force this cut through despite their promise to protect disability benefits.

“Just six per cent of people with a learning disability are in employment; however the Government is still yet to provide any robust evidence that cutting ESA WRAG will improve this number.

“In fact the evidence available shows it will push disabled people further away from the job market, and closer to poverty.”