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October 2, 2015 / politicsbitesize

The cancerous effect of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill

M_white_dark_RGBOn the 17th September 2015 the second reading of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill took place in Parliament. The political ideology behind this Bill is to incentivise people to get into employment by reducing the amount of out-of-work benefits available to them. Despite an initial common sense interpretation of this – if you don’t work then you don’t have much money to live on and we’re not going to give you any more, so you may as well get out there and work – its practical application to the real world is much more sinister.

In the days before the second reading Macmillan Cancer Support submitted evidence that highlighted the Bill’s effects on existing and potential cancer sufferers. At present, people being treated for cancer are entitled to claim Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), which is a benefit designed to support people who have been medically assessed as having limited capability for work. ESA is spilt into two elements: the Support Group and the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG). “Claimants in the Support Group are identified as having the most severe functional impairment or risk to their health and their condition means that they have limited capability both for work and for work-related activity. Claimants in the WRAG are identified as having limited capability for work, but are able to take part in some work-related activity” and are not reasonably required to work or to search for work (as is the case for claiming Job Seekers Allowance).

Cancer patients in the WRAG element currently receive only £102.15 a week to help with transportation, extra treatment and general living costs. From 2017, the government is proposing to reduce this by approximately 30% to £73.10 a week, in order to bring it in to line with the amount received by people on Job Seekers Allowance (JSA). The reason for this is outlined in “the ESA Impact Assessment accompanying the Bill [which] states that 61% of ESA claimants in the WRAG want to work, and that therefore reducing the ESA WRAG rate to the same level as JSA will ‘provide the right incentives and support to encourage people to move back to work’”.

As Macmillan Cancer Support rightly pointed out in its written evidence, this ideologically motivated Bill is ignoring the inherent difference “between someone wanting to go back to work… [who is] physically and mentally able to do so” and someone who is medically, and therefore physically and mentally, unable to do so.  They go on, “whereas claimants of JSA are available, seeking and able to engage in work, claimants in the WRAG have, by definition, been medically assessed to have only a ‘limited capability’ for work and cannot therefore be reasonably required to work. It is imperative that the level of financial support provided to claimants recognises this distinction”.

A person with cancer is already emotionally, mentally and physically engaged in a battle with an insidious illness and its invasive treatment, and they do not need an additional financial burden to carry with them. Macmillan is therefore calling on the Government to remove Clauses 13 and 14 from the Bill. According to Hansard, the Bill is currently being considered in a Public Bill Committee, scheduled to meet on 13 and 15 October 2015, when MPs can further consider the Bill in detail and make amendments to it. Please consider writing to your MP to ask them to vote against this bill in its entirety or to request that they remove Clauses 13 and 14 (http://bit.ly/1O59EL8).

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If you are feeling active, then join tens of thousands of people this weekend to march in Manchester to send a clear message to the Conservative Party about their Government’s damaging programme of austerity and their attacks on the rights of working people. Please join us if you can and help spread the word: https://www.tuc.org.uk/about-tuc/why-are-we-marching

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