As the Welfare Reform Bill progresses through the committee stage of the House of Lords so more evidence is emerging about the catastrophic effect it will have on the lives of workers and their families, especially those most vulnerable, the sick and disabled.
A survey commissioned by the cancer charity, Macmillan Cancer, of 1,500 patients has revealed that even before the passage of the bill and all the benefit cuts it entails more than two thirds of those surveyed reported that they are already experiencing financial problems, with some claiming that they have been forced to go without food because money is so tight.
The survey found that 66% of those cancer patients questioned reported large increases in the cost of living due to rises in the cost of the frequent trips to hospital for treatment and the general rise in household expenses.
One in six of those admitting to financial difficulties reported that they were forced to cut back on essentials such as food.
5% said they had missed meals to save money and 7% reported they lived in fear of having their homes repossessed or being evicted for rent arrears.
Nearly one third of those in financial difficulties have spent all their savings, and 9% reported they were having to borrow to help survive the illness.
This appalling and life-threatening situation is set to dramatically increase as the coalition sets about cutting benefits available to the sick and disabled under the terms of this bill.
Cancer is, the charity stresses, one of the most ‘expensive’ diseases, patients are required to undergo lengthy periods of treatment, during which time they are usually unable to continue working, and this is followed by equally lengthy periods of recovery when again work is virtually impossible.
The proposed cuts in benefit are aimed mainly at the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
The ESA provides unlimited (in terms of time) benefit support for those patients undergoing treatment.
For those who have received treatment and are deemed to be able to perform ‘work-related activities’ that might eventually help them to return to work, these patients will face means-testing after 12 months.
Under this means-testing anyone with savings of over £16,000, or whose partner works for more than twenty four hours a week, or who earns more than £149 a week, would lose all their ESA.
These changes to the ESA would mean, according to Macmillan, that 7,000 cancer patients will lose up to £94 a week.
Just to make life even more intolerable for cancer sufferers another clause in the bill means that patients who need immediate financial help to cover the extra costs following their diagnosis will be forced to wait six months instead of the current three to get the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) which is to replace the Disability Living Allowance.
It is not just cancer patients who are being targeted by the savage cuts in benefit, but the very nature of the disease with its debilitating effect on people and its lengthy treatment and post treatment times means that they are one of the most vulnerable sections of society.
At a time when advances in medical science mean that cancer is no longer the automatic killer that it was, these cuts threaten to make it once more a death sentence – and all to save money that will be used to prop up the banks.
The only way to defeat this bill is to bring down the government that spawned it through a general strike and replace it with a workers government that will ensure adequate treatment and financial support for the disabled and sick.