Clause 51 — Period of entitlement to contributory allowance

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 2:00 pm on 1st February 2012.

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Photo of David Winnick David Winnick Labour, Walsall North 2:00 pm, 1st February 2012

This is indeed a grubby and obnoxious measure, but I have no doubt that at 2.30 pm, the Government will carry the day. I sat on the Government Benches for 13 years, and in the unlikely event that my Government had introduced such a measure, I would not have hesitated to vote against it, as I did on other motions on one or two occasions—although not many. I would not have expected my Government to propose such a measure, and I am pleased that we are opposing it. In essence, we are debating a 12-month limit—if the Lords amendments are defeated, as I expect they will be—for those with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses in the work-related activity group of the employment and support allowance. After 12 months, most of them will be means-tested. Some Government Members will ask why such a means tests should not be imposed, but let us be clear, so that when hon. Members vote in half an hour they know what they are voting on: a claimant in the category that I have mentioned whose partner works for more than 24 hours or earns £149 weekly—£149, not £249 or £549—could lose all their benefit. I wonder how many Government Members, who seem so keen on the proposal, could justify that in their constituencies. I certainly could not and would not wish to try.

As has been stated, Macmillan Cancer Support believes that 7,000 cancer patients will be adversely affected by the proposal. The Government’s own figures show that 94% of people with cancer who are placed in the group that I have mentioned need ESA for longer than 12 months. That is not disputed—if it is, the Minister will intervene. I repeat: the Government’s own statistics show that 94% of such people require that support for longer than 12 months.

This is not just about cancer patients. Let me quote a piece written by someone who has a rare bone disease. He is 50 years old and has spent more than three years in hospitals, trying to recover. He is not in a position to take employment, and that is not disputed. He says that he paid national insurance contributions all his life, until his illness, and he gets £89 a week through ESA. He writes that it

“isn’t a big sum…but it makes a huge difference for me. Among other everyday essentials it pays for the heating to keep me warm during the long and often painful days at home while my partner is out at work.”

Not an extravagant sum, is it? We are not being over-indulgent to someone who worked until he had that terrible disease and wants to try to make the best of his life in such circumstances. He says—[ Interruption. ] I hope the Minister is listening—he smiles.