Clause 51 — Period of entitlement to contributory allowance

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 12:45 pm on 1st February 2012.

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Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions 12:45 pm, 1st February 2012

I can indeed confirm that that is the case. We have listened very carefully on this issue, and it was a point well made by my hon. Friend Jenny Willott in Committee. We have listened and we have taken appropriate action. It is important that we look at such details to ensure that we get them right, but that does not detract from the overall principle of what we are trying to achieve.

I believe that a time limit of one year is the correct approach. It applies the right balance between restricting access to contributory benefits and allowing those with longer term illnesses to adjust to their health condition and surrounding circumstances. There is also a very strong financial argument. If accepted, this amendment would reduce the total savings in the spending review period by around a third by 2016-17, which is £1.6 billion. Given the current fiscal climate, we cannot afford to forgo these savings and this is one of a number of very difficult decisions the Government have had to make because, as the shadow Secretary of State pointed out at the time, there was no money left.

Lords amendment 18 would mean that no time limit would be applied to contributory ESA for those claimants receiving treatment for cancer if they have or are treated as having limited capability for work, or they have or are treated as having limited capability for work as a consequence of a cancer diagnosis. The whole point of our approach on these matters is that we have always looked at the effects of a condition on an individual, rather than at the condition itself. We can all think of other cases which could equally be regarded as special cases. We are trying to be sensitive to the very real concerns of individuals suffering from cancer, and since we took office we have made significant changes to improve the protection and support that we provide to them.

Most individuals with cancer are placed in the support group at the outset of their treatment. We have increased the scope of the support group for cancer patients. We have been working closely with Macmillan Cancer Relief to improve how the WCA assesses individuals being treated for cancer. We are now consulting on our proposals, following work by Macmillan and Professor Harrington, our independent assessor of the work capability assessment.

We are clear that our proposals, which are now out to consultation, include a presumption that someone with cancer will be in the support group. What we simply do not accept is that in all circumstances, regardless of the impact of cancer on an individual’s ability to work or otherwise, they should be guaranteed a position in the support group. We have not taken that approach with any other condition and we do not believe that we should take it with cancer.