Got cancer? Get back to work

Jade GoodyPA

The government's medical tests to catch malingerers claiming disability benefits could end up forcing cancer sufferers to go through the indignity of tests and 'back to work interviews' between chemotherapy sessions.

The government said it wouldn't make it harder for sick people to get help. However, if the experts get their way, life could get even tougher for cancer patients.

Side effects

Cancer patients undergoing treatment often suffer horrific side-effects. Many feel constantly sick and others are too exhausted to get out of bed. The world watched as Jade Goody (pictured) suffered the trials of treatment.

In the past, cancer sufferers have automatically received the highest rate of employment support allowance, worth up to £100 a week. However, in a recent report, the government's adviser on medical tests for welfare claimants suggested cancer patients having intravenous chemotherapy should have to prove they are too ill to work.

Tests

Professor Malcolm Harrington's report shockingly claimed that the automatic benefits have been "encouraging wrong behaviours from employers and stigmatising cancer as something that can lead to unemployment or worklessness".

He has suggested cancer patients will have to go through the same medical fitness tests as anyone else on sickness benefits to prove they are unable to work. If they are judged not to be sick enough to deserve benefits, they will have to go to practice job interviews in order to be entitled to continue receiving the money.

Outrage

Cancer charities have been outraged. They raise serious concerns that this system is not foolproof and that seriously ill people, fighting for their lives, will also have to fight for the right to take time off to convalesce.

Ciarán Devane, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, told the Guardian: "This shows a clear disregard and misunderstanding of what it's like to undergo punishing treatment. Patients who previously had peace of mind would face the stress and practical difficulties of getting assessed for work they are too poorly to do."

The flip side

Yet there is clearly another side to this. In just over 18 months, 9,000 cancer sufferers were automatically entitled to this benefit. That's a lot of money to give people without ascertaining their level of need.

Cancer is a single word that covers a massive range of illnesses. Each cancer is different, each treatment varies and each patient reacts in different ways. This report is simply saying that the government should be allowed to assess whether a patient is reacting in a way that means they need to be at home with their loved ones around them.

Anyone who has lived with a cancer sufferer will tell you that sometimes work is out of the question. Sometimes it's the physical effects of treatment and sometimes the mental aspects of dealing with the disease that mean they need to focus on getting well rather than anything else.

However, they will also tell you that sometimes work is a godsend. If your particular form of cancer and treatment leave you able to work, and you actively want to keep busy rather than sitting at home worrying about your health, then there is no reason why any system should force you to take more time off than you need.

But what do you think? Would you support more tests for cancer sufferers, or is this too much to ask people going through possibly the worst weeks and months of their life? Let us know in the comments.
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