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Friday, 26 October 2018

Macmillan warn cancer patients face further 'hardship and stress' under Universal Credit

Written by David Wilcock

Tens of thousands of cancer patients, including many who are terminally ill, will face further "hardship, stress and anxiety" if they are forced to transfer to Universal Credit (UC), a leading charity has warned.

Some 26,000 sufferers receiving benefits face financial difficulty and worry if they are forced to move to the new all-in-one benefit system before problems with payments are solved, Macmillan Cancer Support said.

From 2019, people too ill to work and currently receiving Employment Support Allowance (ESA) are due to move to the new system, which has faced widespread criticism.

One terminally ill patient branded the new system "a complete nightmare".

Angela Raine (pictured), a 55-year-old grandmother from Stanley, County Durham, who has incurable breast cancer, had to give up her job in a pharmacy after 13 years when she was diagnosed in 2017.

She said: "I can't explain quite how stressful it is - I want to cry just thinking about it.

"I was trying to cope with being told I may die and yet at the same time I'm having to fight to just get a little money so that we can survive.

"Navigating the system is a nightmare, that's quite honestly the only way I can describe it.

"The forms are all so confusing and difficult. It's as if they do that to stop you from applying."

Macmillan hit out at the new benefits system, saying that under current rules cancer patients, 28% of whom have no savings, face a five-week wait for cash after they move across.

Applying online can create stress, especially if they are in hospital or have poor computer skills, and having to visit jobcentres to complete applications also leaves them at risk of infection during treatment, it warned.

The charity said it has had more than 26,500 calls about benefits this year, including 215 in the last month about UC.

Chief executive Lynda Thomas said: "People with cancer should be able to focus their energy on their health, not worrying about how to make ends meet when they are too unwell to work.

"It is unacceptable to force patients to risk infection at jobcentres, log on to computers from hospital and wait more than a month for vital financial support, even at the end of their lives.

"The system is failing people with cancer and we urge the Government to fix this benefit, before tens of thousands more vulnerable people are put at risk of hardship."

UC replaces six existing benefits - ESA, Income Support, income-based Jobseeker's Allowance, Housing Benefit, Working Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit - with a single payment.

The rollout started with new recipients in pilot areas in 2013.

From July 2019, around two million people already receiving the old benefits will be moved on to UC in a "managed migration", which is not due for completion until 2023.

The system has been heavily criticised by MPs from across the spectrum amid calls for it to be halted to allow changes to be made.

Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey has previously said the rollout would continue but she would ensure the Government "get it right".

A DWP spokesman denied a claim by Macmillan that fast-tracking of claims by terminally ill people had been removed under UC, saying they would also "be awarded an additional amount of Universal Credit from the first day of their claim".

He added: "We have a visiting service for claimants with serious barriers.

"Claimants who are terminally ill and unable to make their claim for Universal Credit online, or attend a Jobcentre, are able to make their claim by telephone, or request a home or hospital visit.

"At the visit, a DWP visiting officer will support the customer to make their claim for Universal Credit and verify the customer's identity, enabling their claim to be progressed as quickly as possible.

"Universal Credit replaces an out-of-date, complex benefits system.

"We brought in improvements which include increasing advances to 100%, removing the seven-day waiting period and paying people's housing benefit for two weeks while they wait for the first UC payment so no one needs to be without money during the first five weeks of a claim."

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Macmillan Cancer Support / PA Wire.