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Cancer patients could lose financial benefits in Welfare Reform Bill

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Government plans for welfare reform will plunge cancer patients into poverty simply “because they have not recovered quickly enough”, campaigners say.

Almost 7,000 cancer patients could lose up to £94 a week under changes set out in the Welfare Reform Bill, which is currently going through Parliament.

Ministers argue the Bill - the biggest change to the welfare system for more than 60 years - will make the benefits and tax credits system “fairer and simpler”.

But charities have opposed some of the changes, with Macmillan Cancer Support saying it could push cancer patients into poverty.

Under the plans, many cancer patients will only receive Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for one year, worth £94 a week.

Its loss will leave patients without financial support at a time when they are not well enough to go back to work or face barriers to employment, according to the charity.

It says the government’s own statistics show that one year is not long enough for many cancer patients - with 94% of all people claiming ESA still needing it after one year.

Under the plans, some people with cancer will be placed in the ESA work-related activity group (WRAG), which means they have to do work activities in order to claim benefit.

Those in WRAG who based their claim on national insurance contributions will only be able to claim this benefit for 12 months before it is means-tested, according to the Bill.

Experts from Macmillan say a patient whose partner works more than 24 hours a week or who earns £149 per week would lose all their ESA.

Ciaran Devane, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “Many cancer patients will lose this crucial benefit simply because they have not recovered quickly enough.

“The majority want to return to work as it can represent a milestone in their recovery and a return to normality, in addition to the obvious financial benefits.

“This proposal in the Welfare Reform Bill will have a devastating impact on many cancer patients.

“We are urging the government to change their plans to reform key disability benefits to ensure cancer patients and their families are not pushed into poverty.”

People living with cancer who are placed in the ESA support group will not be affected by the changes and will not need to carry out work-related activity to get their benefit.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “”We are working closely with Macmillan to ensure that people with cancer get all the support from us they need.

“Those who are severely ill and disabled in the support group of ESA will see no change to their benefit entitlement. Nor will there be any change for those on income-related ESA.”

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