Millions spent informing sick and disabled their benefits might stop - before Welfare Bill is even passed
Posted Monday 19 September 2011
From this week, thousands of letters will begin to land on the doorsteps of those who are too unwell to work - including cancer patients and those with severe mental health problems.
This letter will inform them that their vital out-of-work benefit, Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), may be stopped in April 2012 because of changes in the Welfare Reform Bill – despite the fact that the Bill is still being debated in Parliament. The Government will spend £2.7m on sending the letters from a contingency fund.
Under current proposals in the Welfare Reform Bill, many cancer patients and people with severe and complex mental health problems will have their ESA removed after one year irrespective of whether they are well enough to return to work.
Macmillan Cancer Support estimates 7,000 cancer patients will lose up to £94 a week. In March an alliance of 30 cancer charities, including Macmillan, wrote an open letter to the Government expressing concern about the Bill and opposing ESA time-limiting.
Ciarán Devane, Chief Executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, says:
Though we understand that the Government should alert people in advance to any changes to their benefits, the Welfare Reform Bill is not even close to being passed and yet the Government is already behaving as if it is.
They are laying the groundwork for ESA time-limiting despite many Lords opposing the plans just last week at Second Reading.
Lords will no doubt be angry that claimants are being told they could lose their benefits before they have had the opportunity to debate the proposals in detail.
The letters will cause a great deal of distress to thousands of cancer patients and their families who will be left wondering whether their vital financial support will be taken away or not. We will continue to urge the Government to think again.
The mental health charity Mind has found that in many cases the prospect of welfare reform is causing serious mental distress for benefit claimants. Mind’s Chief Executive Paul Farmer says:
We know that the prospect of changes to benefits can be very stressful for the people who rely on welfare whilst they are too unwell to work, and since the Welfare Reform Bill began its life, our Infoline has seen a significant increase in the number of people calling, distressed and terrified that their benefits are going to be cut off.
It doesn’t matter if you receive ESA for depression, cancer or any other health problem, this letter will be a bolt from the blue for many which could have a catastrophic impact on their mental wellbeing.
It is very alarming that the Government is pressing ahead with these plans without considering the anxiety that their actions will cause, and we worry that these letters could potentially impede claimants’ return to health.
Macmillan Cancer Support and Mind wants the Bill amended so everyone eligible for ESA who has paid into the system will receive it for as long as they need it.
The charities also believe it is unacceptable to make sick and disabled people wait six months to access Personal Independence Payment (PIP).