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Work Capability Assessment: Cancer Treatments

Volume 736: debated on Wednesday 21 March 2012


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what changes are planned to the work capability assessment following their informal consultation on accounting for the effects of cancer treatments.

I beg leave to ask the Question standing on the Order Paper in my name, and in so doing I declare an interest as chief executive of a research cancer charity.

My Lords, our informal consultation on accounting for the effects of cancer treatment in the work capability assessment closed on 9 March. We received almost 90 responses to the consultation. We are currently analysing these responses and will in due course publish a consultation response which will outline our proposals. Until we have done so, it would be inappropriate to comment on any changes to the work capability assessment.

My Lords, can the Minister inform the House what action the Government are taking to ensure that the intended introduction next month of the contributory ESA time limit will not impact adversely on those cancer patients who are currently claiming contributory ESA?

Before I do so, my Lords, I would like to place on record our thanks to the noble Baroness and Breast Cancer Campaign for the valuable work that they do in this field. We are committed to supporting cancer sufferers in the most appropriate way through the welfare system. As evidence of that commitment, a year ago we extended the support group to include both those awaiting and those between courses of treatment. As a result, 68 per cent of employment support allowance claimants whose primary condition is cancer are placed in the support group and will be unaffected by time-limiting. We of course recognise that some individuals will be affected. This is a highly sensitive area and we must get our proposals right. That is why, as I explained, we undertook a consultation, are analysing the responses we received and will publish a response soon. We will then fully assess the implications of those proposals, with a view to implementing such changes as are necessary as quickly as possible.

My Lords, the Government have had just nine or 10 days since the consultation ended to bring a response. However, does my noble friend agree that the state and the benefit system have to perform the important job of supporting people who have suffered or are suffering from cancer and ensure that not only the method of treatment but also the condition of each individual is looked at? We must treat every person as an individual and not take a tick-box approach to their problems.

My Lords, what is the position with people undergoing chemotherapy? In many cases, if they are on a monthly cycle, the first week will be absolutely intolerable; then they will be fine for two weeks; then it will be absolutely ordinary living in the next week; and then they will start the cycle again. Is that treated as a total continuing period for a work capability assessment, or will they be expected to do something in the one week when they are better off?

My noble friend makes a valid point. Of course she is right: they will be treated as being under treatment.

My Lords, can the Minister give us an update on the success rate of appeals against WCA determinations?

Yes, my Lords. The rate of successful appeals remains at about 40 per cent. We recognise the importance of getting decisions right the first time, and we are committed to improving the decision-making process as part of the drive to ensure that the work capability assessment is as fair and effective as possible.