Select Committee on Work and Pensions Written Evidence

Supplementary memorandum submitted by Macmillan Cancer Relief after the publication of the Welfare Reform Green Paper


  1.1  Macmillan Cancer Relief provides the expert care and emotional support that makes a real difference to people living with cancer. We offer a range of innovative cancer services and are at the heart of improving cancer care throughout the UK.

  1.2  Around a third of people newly diagnosed with cancer each year—90,000 people—are of working age. There are currently 37,300 people with a cancer diagnosis claiming incapacity benefits.[25] Most cancer patients of working age do not want to drop out of the labour market. Nearly 60% of patients in a survey by CancerBACUP said they wanted to continue working.[26] However, cancer patients do need time off work while they are undergoing treatment. 84% of respondents to the CancerBACUP survey found the side effects of treatment difficult to manage in the workplace.


  Following the publication of the Welfare Reform Green Paper, Macmillan is concerned that two key areas impacting cancer patients have still not been adequately addressed.

    —    Cancer patients undergoing active treatment or who are terminally ill need improved provision for waiving and deferring compulsory work-focussed interviews.

    —    A stronger focus on measures to encourage employers to retain and hire sick or disabled workers is needed.


  3.1  The Welfare Reform Green Paper does not allay our concerns that cancer patients who are undergoing active treatment or who are terminally ill may be inappropriately compelled to attend work-focussed interviews. We have asked for statutory exemptions and deferrals but the Green Paper does not acknowledge that existing discretionary safeguards are not working properly and need strengthening.

  3.2  Macmillan has a network of benefits advisers who help around 10,000 cancer patients each year. Macmillan benefits advisers are telling us that:

    —    Terminally ill patients are being required to attend work-focussed interviews when claiming Incapacity Benefit.

    —    Patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiotherapy are having difficulty deferring interviews.

    —    Jobcentre Plus staff are not always using appropriate discretion to waive and defer interviews correctly and individual Jobcentre Plus offices are developing their own deferment practices—eg in Northampton interviews can be deferred for 13 weeks following intervention by a Macmillan benefits adviser while in Stratford interviews can only be deferred for two weeks at a time.

    —    Some call centres refuse to speak to Macmillan advisers who are intervening on behalf of patients.

  3.3  The case studies below illustrate the problems our advisers encounter. These situations are becoming increasingly common and are set to continue in the absence of any clear proposals to strengthen existing safeguards:

    —    In September 2005, a woman on DLA under the special rules applied to Fulham Jobcentre Plus for a renewal of IB. She was called in for an interview. A benefits adviser was at the woman's house while she was on the phone to the Jobcentre Plus call centre trying to get the interview waived. The benefits adviser spoke to the call centre and made it clear that the woman was in no fit state to attend. The call centre worker refused to waive the interview and the woman's husband insisted that he would attend in her place. Once he got to the offices and explained the situation the person dealing with him was extremely apologetic. The patient died one month later.

    —    In October 2005, a 44-year-old male with leukaemia applied for IB. He told Highgate Jobcentre Plus that he was undergoing active treatment (he was having chemotherapy) but they insisted that he must meet with a personal adviser for an interview. A Macmillan benefits adviser intervened on his behalf but the interview was only deferred for two weeks. The client was sent a letter to say that he would be contacted by telephone on 21 November to establish a suitable date for an interview. Since then, no one has called and attempts by the benefits adviser to establish who is responsible for decisions about interviews have proved fruitless.

  3.4  We believe that cancer patients undergoing treatment or with a terminal diagnosis should not be called to attend compulsory interviews. The Government needs to improve safeguards to prevent cancer patients or those with a terminal illness being inappropriately required to attend interviews. We want to see cancer patients undergoing treatment exempted in law and were extremely disappointed that our concerns were not addressed in the Green Paper.


  4.1  Conditions are being imposed on claimants but not on employers. People with cancer need financial support when they cannot work and employment support when they are able to return to work.

  4.2  The onus now needs to be on employers to develop job retention and return to work packages that help cancer patients return to work when they are able to. We are disappointed that there is so little emphasis in the Welfare Reform Green Paper on job retention nor any concrete proposals for incentivising employers to hire and retain sick and disabled employees.

Macmillan Cancer Relief

February 2006

25   Department for Work and Pensions, Incapacity Benefit and Severe Disablement Allowance Quarterly Summary Statistics: February 2005. Back

26   CancerBACUP, (2005), Work and cancer: How cancer affects working lives. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2006
Prepared 6 May 2006