CANCER patients are amongst those worst hit by the ongoing welfare cuts, Strangford MP Jim Shannon has told the government.
Mr Shannon told MPs at Westminster that the appeals system for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and and Disability Living Allowance (DLA) were cutting off support to people enduring unbearable hardships.
He referred to one local man who has only one leg, who has severe diabetes and Crohn's disease who has been refused DLA, as well as people with serious mental illnesses who are unable to work.
As far as ESA is concerned, he referred to one constituent who had just undergone 30 sessions of radiotherapy, and 15 of chemotherapy. "Since the treatment he has been unable to put the weight back on and has no appetite, leaving him at a tiny 8 stone in weight. He is lethargic and tired and severely underweight and yet this is not taken into account with the standard ESA tests and therefore despite the fact he is recovering from cancer and in no fit state for work, his application was turned down," fumed the MP.
Mindful of the current economic climate and the need for savings to be made, Mr Shannon stressed "common sense" would allow a cancer sufferer in recovery was "entitled to a little help as they physically could not work"0.
"It is little wonder that MacMillan Cancer have said that 40% of cancer survivors in Northern Ireland say that not all of their health and social care needs are met and that cancer sufferers have ill health for years after."
Mr Shannon was also concerned that people with sight problems were being excluded from ESA since April 2011 despite the government accepting the recommendations of an independent review last year to improve the assessment process (the Work Capability Assessment or WCA).
"Changes to the assessment criteria fail to recognise the barriers blind and partially sighted people face in relation to work," he said.
Moving on to Disability Living Allowance, Mr Shannon said his office was "inundated" with appeals against decisions due to the guidelines in place. "I watch people struggle into my office, those who can barely walk, those who are suffering with Cancer and those who have not got the quality of life that the rest of us take for granted, seeking help filling in forms which are "complex and difficult and somewhat tricky".
"I once fought a DLA appeal for a man who had one leg, suffered from diabetes to such an extent that he actually had to wake up during the night to inject himself. He also suffered from Crohns disease and often soiled himself before he could get his crutches and make his way to the toilet during the night and yet the DLA decision makers said he did not need help?
"This is crazy and this must be addressed," he demanded.
He said he and his staff feared for the lives of some of their callers, including one woman who "comes into my office screaming in frustration that she will end her life as she is so stressed out with the forms and has no reason to live and can't eat."
He said his staff were always left very distressed by the women's plight, and criticised a "system that will not take into account the state of this lady's mental health.".
He said he believed the woman's mental health precluded her from ever finding employment.
"By trailing her through appeal after appeal there is a real possibility that one of these days the girls in my office will ring on her to check and there will be no answer.
Accepting the government was right to stop payments to those not entitled, he concluded: "The ball is in the court of this government - what will history record that you have done with your vulnerable and needy?"