Press release

Making the WCA work better for cancer patients

Consultation on reforming the Work Capability Assessment.

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


Today the Government launched a consultation on reforming the Work Capability Assessment with a view to ensuring a substantial increase in the number of cancer patients who receive unconditional support while they are receiving treatment.

Ministers have accepted the principle that patients receiving oral chemotherapy should receive the same kind of protection as those receiving more traditional intravenous treatment.

The move is the latest in a series of measures to improve the support those with chronic conditions receive from the welfare state.

Government, stakeholders and experts have agreed that under the present rules, which determine someone’s eligibility for help due to the sort of treatment they are receiving, some cancer patients are unfairly missing out on support.

This consultation follows a series of recommendations from Professor Malcolm Harrington on how changes to the WCA could result in more people who need help and support from the Employment and Support Allowance, accessing it more quickly and easily.

Following work with Macmillan Cancer Support, Professor Harrington accepted the existing rules which assumed eligibility for the Support Group based on the sort of treatment someone was receiving were unfair.

This has resulted in some people who could not work because of their cancer treatment not being able to access extra support because the system has decided that their treatment means they should be capable of doing some sort of work.

Professor Harrington agreed with Macmillan that most patients should be considered eligible for the Support Group regardless of the type of treatment being undertaken.

The Government proposals would see more people automatically go into the ESA Support Group based on information, such as a letter from the claimant’s GP or cancer specialist confirming their condition and the treatment being provided. Speeding up the process and reducing the need for face-to-face meetings. It would also take into account that for many people, being able to do some work during treatment or recovery was important.

The consultation will be seeking views from all interested stakeholders, including individuals who have been or are being affected by cancer, their families and carers, healthcare practitioners and cancer specialists as well as representative organisations and employers.

Based on evidence, we will be looking to see how we can build on the consensus that the WCA must be more reflective of the reality of today’s cancer treatments as well as keeping the option of work open to those who want to.

The consultation is seeking views on proposals to change and expand the current provisions to include individuals:

  • Awaiting, receiving or recovering from treatment by way of oral chemotherapy, except when the therapy is continuous for a period of more than six months; 
  • Awaiting, receiving or recovering from combined chemo-irradiation;
  • Awaiting, receiving or recovering from radiotherapy in the treatment of cancer in the following areas: Head and neck; Brain; Lung; Gastro-intestinal; Pelvic

To ensure that everyone has the opportunity to comment on the evidence available, the Department is publishing the advice which Professor Harrington received from Macmillan Cancer Support and on which its proposals are based.

The consultation will run until the March 9th 2012.

Notes to Editors:

  1. The document can be found here:
  2. Further details of Professor Malcolm Harrington’s independent review into the Work Capability Assessment can be found here:
Published 16 December 2011