Monday, 12 November 2012

Guest post: Some conditions are more equal than others

This is a guest post from @DocHackenbush.

Black and white cartoon. Caption across the top says 'why do cancer patients seem to get cut more slack than other sick and disabled people?' There are then 4 monsters. On the left is 'cancer' who looks a bit like a snail with a soft shell with tentacles. Then there's two-headed 'MS'. Next is 'EDS' who looks a bit like a rasher of bacon with a face and hirsutism. Finally is something that looks a bit like a dildo with one eye and a floor level mouth. This one is wearing a name badge saying 'Hi. My name is Cronhns.' MS is saying 'Wow! Can I have your autograph? How do we get to be as famous as you?' EDS says '*mutters*' and cancer responds with 'try killing a few more celebrities!'

The inspiration for this cartoon came from the ruling that people receiving treatment for cancer are partially exempt from the one year time limit on receiving Contributory Employment Support Allowance (cESA) in the Work Related Activity Group. If you are getting treatment for your cancer, your one year countdown begins when your treatment ends. If you have anything else, tough cheddar - your countdown starts when your claim starts, regardless of what treatments you are currently undergoing.

As someone with a cancer of their very own, you'd think that was something I could really get behind, right? Well here's the thing - cancers come in all shapes, sizes and flavours and mine, on the whole, is more manageable than most; my main symptoms being skin lesions and fatigue. I know many people who live with illnesses and conditions much more detrimental to leading a normal life that will have their entitlement to benefits withdrawn after only twelve months. Why should the public profile of my disease mean that I get longer on ESA? Don't get me wrong, Cancer is a horrible, horrible bastard of an illness, but then again so is Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, Multiple Sclerosis, ME, Crohn's Disease or any number of others I could name, the treatments for managing which are often considerably more debilitating.

Should these people get shafted because their disease or condition or whatever hasn't had any telethons held in their honour recently? Sadly this government seems to think they should.


  1. I have to say I share this view. Similar things happen when exceptions are made for certain groups such as war veterans who may not have to undergo the medicals for PIP and potentially lose their current benefits.

    It isn't so much that I envy the groups involved as much that I feel that if there is a need to protect "popular" groups for fear of a backlash from the public then that means the system being put in place must be a bad one. If it really were fit for purpose then there would be no need for exceptions in the first place.

    Rather than protect certain popular special cases we should make sure that the system works for everyone. Instead I feel that the powers that be are cynically making sure that they can push through some pretty nasty policies by ensuring that the public won't react too much.

  2. Having "special groups" wouldn't be necessary if the system worked. I believe it is part of a divide and conquer measure to prevent some people rocking the lifeboat.

  3. Completely agree with Spoonydoc, protecting(!) the politically influential service personnel and cancer lobby from the system everyone else is subjected to is both a clear indication that the system is unacceptable, and a perfect example of divide and conquer.

    We need to call on the service and cancer DPOs and charities to recognise that they are being exploited politically as quid pro quo for their special treatment and challenge them to take their place in the fight for a system that is fair for all, not simply the politically connected.

  4. This isn't true, and you should be a damn sight more careful about putting out false information. The rule is, contributory ESA is paid for up to 365 days, but any time a person spends in the support group is ignored for the purpose of calculating the 365 days. So, if you claimed ESA and were put in the support group for six months, and then put in the work related activity group after that, you could get contributory ESA for up 18 months. The only way this gives an 'advantage' to people with cancer is that if they are having chemotherapy they are automatically put in the support group. But not all cancers are treated with chemotherapy. People with some illnesses other than cancer are automatically put in the support group - people undergoing dialysis, for example. I know whereof I speak on this point, because I am a welfare rights expert. I have specialised in it for 14 years and counting.
    One reason the cancer lobby is influential is that a third of all people get some form of cancer, plus most types of cancer are ultimately not curable (life expectancy after diagnosis can be 5 years or more, but most cancers aren't curable in the sense that they can be treated and will then disappear for good.)Since a large proprtion of people experience cancer, a larger proportion of them will give money and other support to cancer charities than to charities that deal with less common conditions. I'm not saying anything about the rightness or wrongness of that, but lobby groups do tend to draw strength from numbers, as well as from the social position of people who might choose to support them. - Carol Laidlaw

    1. You're right. I've added the words "Work Related Activity Group" to the sentence in question.