21 Sep 2011

‘700,000 terminally ill to lose benefits’

Health charities condemn the government for writing to some terminally ill people to tell them a benefit they receive will stop in six months.

dying - Getty

Thousands of people with serious illnesses have begun to receive the letters from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Under the welfare reform bill plans, “contributory-employment and support allowance” (c-ESA) will be time-limited to one year from April 2012, meaning terminally ill people who have accessed c-ESA since April 2011 could lose all out of work help in just six months time.

The government calculates that at least 700,000 people will be affected by 2015-16.

Some terminally ill people may qualify for alternative help, but for the government to meet its targeted cut of £2bn, over 400,000 people must lose all support.

Cancer charities estimate 7,000 cancer patients could lose help, and when people with other conditions are included the total number of people with terminal conditions affected will be higher.

Terminally ill people have started to receive the DWP letter, despite the fact that the House of Lords has not scrutinised the plans. The welfare reform bill enters Lords committee sessions in two weeks and the time-limiting could be amended or removed.

Neil Coyle, Disability Alliance director of policy, said: “The impact of cutting support will be devastating for people already told they only have a limited time left to live. Many will have worked for years and will feel they deserve a little support in return till they pass away.

“The government has time to change plans before terminally ill people and their families have this avoidable and quite nasty cut imposed.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “It would be completely wrong not to alert people well in advance that there is a possibility that their benefit entitlement may change. From next April people in the work-related activity group will only be able to claim ESA for a year – to bring it into line with other benefits.

“ESA is not designed for people to claim for the long term unless they are in the support group. We must ensure that the benefit system has to be fair to taxpayers as well as disabled people.”

However Disability Alliance says the DWP is causing unneccessary distress by sending warning letters to people who are receiving a benefit – income-based ESA – which will be unaffected by the changes as only contributions-based ESA WRAG is being time-limited.


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