FORMER city MP John Barrett today added his voice to a campaign calling on the UK Government to rethink plans to force cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy to prove they are unfit to work before giving them benefits.
Mr Barrett – who was diagnosed with cancer of the colon last month and is about to start chemotherapy – said he was contacting ex-colleagues at Westminster to urge them to help stop the move.
Cancer charities have strongly criticised the Department of Work and Pensions over the proposed changes. Macmillan Cancer Support said under the plans, currently being consulted on, seriously ill cancer patients in the middle of gruelling chemotherapy treatment will be forced to prove they are too sick to work and some will face back-to-work interviews or be denied Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
Cancer experts and 30 cancer charities have said patients going through debilitating cancer treatment – and who have to leave work – should be automatically eligible for ESA.
Mr Barrett, who was MP for Edinburgh West for nine years until last year’s general election, said: “I’m speaking to my former parliamentary colleagues to say when this comes up they need to stop it.
“Macmillan are the experts. We should listen to what they and other charities are saying.”
Up until now there have been different benefit rules for chemotherapy patients, depending on how they were getting their treatment.
Mr Barrett said: “In the past, if you got chemotherapy orally you had to prove you couldn’t work. If you were getting it intravenously they just accepted you couldn’t work and you were entitled to benefits.
“People felt it was wrong to have that distinction, but rather than assuming they should all be entitled to benefits, they went the other way.”
Ciarán Devane, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “This shows a clear disregard and misunderstanding of what it’s like to undergo punishing treatment. We hope Ministers will rethink these proposals and listen to the cancer community.”
A DWP spokeswoman said the department was still discussing the proposed changes with cancer charities.
She said: “We have been consulting with charities about how it should work for those undergoing treatment but who may wish to be considered for some form of work.
“However, we do believe that assuming work is not an option for all cancer sufferers is not the right way ahead.”