Press release

Benefits rules change to help people with cancer

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

More people suffering from cancer will get the unconditional help they need under new proposals.

More people suffering from cancer will get the unconditional help they need under new proposals published today.

The changes will mean hundreds more people a year who are awaiting, receiving, or recovering from any form of chemotherapy or radiotherapy for cancer will be placed in the Support Group for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), where they will get the long term support they need while unable to work.

The simpler process will mean all types of cancer treatment are seen as having the potential to be equally as debilitating, rather than the current rules which distinguish between different forms of treatment. This means more people will qualify for the ESA Support Group, whereas before they may have been placed in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) where they would be expected to make efforts to return to work.

Employment Minister Mark Hoban said:

Treatment for cancer is changing, and we need to reflect this in the benefits system. These changes will improve the way people with cancer are assessed and will result in more people with cancer getting the financial support they need.

We have listened to cancer charities, and people suffering from cancer, and I am very pleased we can play our part in reducing the burden on people during what everyone knows is a particularly difficult time.

I am committed to continually improving the Work Capability Assessment process to ensure it is as fair and effective as possible and that those who need help get it. Thanks to Professor Harrington’s independent reviews, we have already made considerable improvements to the system. Today’s changes are a welcome continuation of that process and we will continue to work with the specialists and organisations such as Macmillan”.

The new proposals are a result of recommendations made by Professor Harrington’s second independent review. It follows extensive consultation with specialists, Macmillan, other cancer charities, and people with cancer and their families, on the debilitating effects of all forms of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Current rules mean that some people receiving oral chemotherapy and radiotherapy may be placed in the Work Related Activity group for ESA and have to take steps to return to work. The new proposals will mean more people will be placed in the Support Group for ESA, where financial support is unconditional and there is no requirement to take steps to return to work.

The simpler process will also mean the vast majority of benefit decisions for those receiving treatment for cancer will be assessed on the supporting medical evidence without needing a face-to-face assessment.

In consultation with Macmillan and the Royal College of Radiologists, a ‘light touch’ process for providing evidence for a person’s claim is being developed. This will mean people don’t have to complete a lengthy questionnaire.

Notes to Editors

  • Work Capability Assessment: Government response to an informal consultation on accounting for the effects of cancer treatments can be downloaded here:
  • The new proposals are based on evidence from specialists that it is no longer reasonable to differentiate between non-oral and oral chemotherapy.
  • The current rules mean claimants receiving radiotherapy are often placed in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG).
  • The new proposals are based on the view that it is the debilitating effects of radiotherapy that should be considered and it should not be treated differently from chemotherapy.
  • The new ‘light touch’ evidence gathering process will see claimants with cancer being directed to a dedicated part of the ESA50 form, negating the requirement to complete the whole questionnaire.
  • Supporting medical evidence will be required from a relevant healthcare professional,  which could include the claimant’s oncologist, GP or, where appropriate, a specialist cancer nurse.