By Jo Maxwell
In November, Macmillan Cancer Support launched a petition against a government proposal to axe benefits for chemotherapy patients who cannot prove they are unfit to work.
Existing legislation protects patients receiving intravenous chemotherapy from any such burden — the assumption being that the drugs render a person unable to function well enough to continue working through their treatment. There has until now been a fight to extend this protection to patients receiving oral chemotherapy and radiotherapy, as both treatments can also have a disabling
affect on the recipient, often as serious an effect as the intravenous alternative.
The effects of chemotherapy on the human body are horrific: hair loss, anaemia, an increased openness to infection, breathlessness, bruising and bleeding more easily, risk of blood clots, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and constipation, mouth ulcers… the list goes on.
I had a three month course of oral chemotherapy and had to continue working to keep my flat. I wasn’t entitled to any help because I chose to continue working, and as I didn’t get sick pay I made a financial sacrifice every time I had a particularly bad day and had to take annual leave to have the surgery I needed.
I came off quite lightly with regards to the side effects, mainly suffering from intense nausea and back and muscle pain; but some days it would have been impossible for me to go to work.
The fight to extend the cover of (albeit meagre) benefit payouts to people like me is a more than worthy one, and a call for a “levelling up” of the system.
As usual, the Tory government chooses to level things out in their own way by saying that if some people can’t have something, then nobody should. Removing the financial safety net of many chemotherapy patients leaves them even more reliant on rare and
“needs-based” charity handouts and loans to make ends meet when in many cases these people are fighting for their lives.
Being asked to face a back-to-work type interview when already battling against your own body will have devastating effects on the lives of these patients and their families. Where stress and illness already threaten lives, people are to be asked to compete against poverty and work literally until they drop.
There are no words for the personal anger I feel about this proposal. But this is not a personal issue, this is class war; a complete and utter disregard for those of us who must work for a living and do not have the luxury of being ill without risking losing everything for ourselves and our families.
This is a blatant attack and repeal of the rights we have fought hard to win as a class, and goes hand-in-hand with their plans to make us work harder for longer and with less reward.