I'm afraid I'm going to cheat today. Instead of writing a proper blogpost, I'm just gonna post an email I sent to Tim Farron MP, President of the Liberal Democrats, yesterday.
You see, yesterday I tweeted Tim about my article on Lib Dem Voice about the government's proposals to force cancer patients to undertake work related activity. Because Tim is so awesome, he replied to my tweet almost immediately and asked me to email him about it. So, below, is the email I sent to him:
I tweeted you this article from Lib Dem Voice (http://www.libdemvoice.org/opinion-government-must-not-force-work-activities-on-cancer-patients-26128.html) and you very kindly said you'd raise the issue with the DoH. As it happens, this issue is actually one governed by the DWP and they're the ones proposing the changes.
Basically, it used to be the case that cancer patients getting chemo intravenously received unconditional support once they'd proved to the DWP they were undergoing the treatment. But radiotherapy patients and patients getting chemo orally were placed in the Work Related Activity Group and were forced to undertake work related activity, such as attending physical interviews with DWP employees, or have their benefits cut, and to undergo medical assessments - despite the fact that radio and oral chemo are just as debilitating and horrible as intravenous chemo.
Macmillan Cancer Support were asked to make recommendation for change on this issue to the Second Year Harrington Report (http://www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/wca-review-2011.pdf).
The DWP response to the recommendations (http://www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/wca-review-2011-response.pdf) was to end unconditional support for all cancer patients. Instead, radiotherapy and chemotherapy patients (including those receiving it orally and those receiving it intravenously) will all be forced to undergo medical assessments and will be expected to attend work related interviews. The only good news is that the DWP has said that more of these assessments and work related activity will be made paper based.
This is obviously better than cancer patients having to physically go to assessment centres to undergo the Work Capability Assessment, but it still means that they'll be burdened with form filling in and paperwork, with the threat of financial sanctions hanging over them, when it's obvious that they're sick and really don't need the additional stress.
The DWP's reasoning behind the changes is that to give this group of people unconditional support would prevent those who want to from working or undertaking work related activity but the fact is that those receiving unconditional support have always been entitled to take up work related activity provided by the DWP if they want to.
Macmillan aren't happy about this (http://www.macmillan.org.uk/Aboutus/News/Latest_News/DWPproposestoforcechemotherapypatientstoundergostressfulbenefitchecks.aspx) and, aside from all the ethical and moral reasons for us Lib Dems to want this group of cancer patients to receive unconditional support (which is my primary concern), it could potentially turn into a damaging PR disaster for the government and us as a party by association.
It's be really great if you could try and convince the DWP to change their minds on this issue.
I know that as an MP and Party President you must have a lot on your plate (and that's probably understating matters) but if you could also find a few minutes to read this brief overview of the disability benefits situation (http://thepotterblogger.blogspot.com/2011/12/concise-disability-benefits-fact-sheet.html) as it should give you an idea of the context of the overall situation within which this change is taking place. The time limit, in particular, will hit cancer patients (as well as the sick and disabled in general) and is in fact something which autumn conference opposed by unanimously passing a motion against it.
Thank you so much for your time.