Reforms 'could hit cancer patients'
Radical reforms to the benefit system have come under renewed attack from an alliance of 30 cancer charities warning that the changes will leave sufferers "without vital financial support at a time when they need it the most".
In a letter to Iain Duncan Smith, the organisations said they feared the planned overhaul could push people with the disease into poverty and heavy debt. The warning comes as the Work and Pensions Secretary's Welfare Reform Bill enters its Second Reading in the Commons - the first opportunity for MPs to vote on the changes.
The signatories, which include Cancer Research, Macmillan Cancer Support and Teenage Cancer Trust, said: "We agree that the welfare system needs reform and welcome proposals to simplify a system that is currently confusing and bureaucratic.
"However, we are extremely concerned that changes to disability benefits will mean that a significant number of people with cancer will be left without vital financial support at a time when they need it the most. We would like to work with you to make sure this Government's welfare reforms do not have the very undesirable consequence of pushing some people with cancer into poverty."
Prime Minister David Cameron has hailed the far-reaching shake-up as "the most ambitious, fundamental and radical" since the creation of the welfare state.
The new plans include replacing most existing benefits with a universal credit, designed to ensure people are always better off when they are employed. Those who refuse to take up job offers face losing their handouts for up to three years, and there will be tougher sanctions for fraud.
However, a number of aspects of the proposals have been criticised by the group of charities. Among them are plans to impose a one-year time limit on claims for Employment Support Allowance (ESA) for up to a million people judged able to return to work.
The signatories claim that could include thousands undergoing oral chemotherapy or radiotherapy treatment. The group also complained of a six-month wait to claim new personal independence payments and said the bill was a perfect time to address the "inequity" patients face when being assessed for ESA.
A DWP spokeswoman said: "We are changing the welfare system because in its current state it's not working In all our changes we are protecting those who need the most help.
"On Employment and Support Allowance we have accepted all the recommendations by Professor Harrington who is now considering the needs of people receiving oral chemotherapy as part of his second review. Cancer sufferers who are terminally ill claiming Disability Living Allowance will be exempt from waiting six months before they can make a claim."