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Disability benefit delays are causing cancer patients’ health to worsen

People are waiting an average of 14 weeks to find out if they will get welfare payments, Macmillan research reveals.

By Harry Clarke-Ezzidio and Katharine Swindells

Delays in processing personal independence payment (PIP) claims are making applicants with long-term illnesses and disabilities suffer.

PIP is a non-means tested benefit designed to give people additional financial support. Yet more than half of people with cancer who are eligible for PIP have reported negative health consequences as a result of delays in decision-making from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), according to the cancer charity Macmillan.

There is a backlog of applicants who are waiting for a decision from the government on their eligibility, which is made following a medical assessment. Data from Macmillan reveals that 56 per cent of applicants reported at least one issue with their health, well-being or finances while they waited for a decision.

The benefit is designed to help disabled people and those with long-term health conditions with their daily living costs. Once someone is on the scheme, they receive the payment every four weeks, and the amount varies depending on each individual’s health circumstances.

The government does not have a target for how quickly it should process an application. The waiting time for a decision is currently 14 weeks, according to Macmillan, and it can take up to six months from first contacting the DWP for a claimant to receive their first payment, Citizens Advice estimates.

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Macmillan is calling for the DWP to cut decision waiting times down to 12 weeks. More than four in ten of those with cancer who now receive PIP reported having to borrow money, use savings, or go further into debt while waiting to receive their first payment.

[See also: Disabled jobseekers are being shut out of finding work]

Nearly one in three (32 per cent) of people with cancer who receive PIP had to wait more than 12 weeks to receive their first payment, while a quarter (25 per cent) waited more than 16 weeks. Longer waits have been shown to be detrimental to people’s health: 60 per cent of those who had to wait longer than 12 weeks reported that their physical or mental health had declined, compared with 23 per cent of those waiting fewer than 12 weeks.

The reality is that the cost-of-living-crisis is pushing more people with long-term illnesses or disabilities into poverty. This is in large part due to the additional energy costs disabled people face due to needing to charge and run specialist equipment, or due to needing to keep their house warmer than other people to manage their condition.

People in receipt of disability benefits received a £150 cost-of-living payment from the government last autumn, and will receive the same amount again this summer. Steve McIntosh, the executive director of advocacy at Macmillan, has called for the government to “go further and faster to reduce the long waiting times with a clear plan that will ensure people with cancer get the support they deserve”.

Sarifa Patel, 63, who had stage-three breast cancer diagnosed in 2010, cares full-time for her husband and son due to their complex medical needs. Patel had received PIP for years, but in 2017 her payments stopped due to a disagreement with medical professionals about her eligibility. She went without the benefit for five years. After charities including Macmillan lobbied on her behalf, Patel's PIP was restarted last autumn, but she is going through a legal dispute with the DWP around receiving backdated payments for the years she went without the benefit.

Patel had to take out loans to support herself and her family. Although the value of PIP is due to increase by 10.1 per cent this month, the fear of falling back into more debt to survive “is a constant worry”, she told Spotlight. “I look at my energy bills and think: ‘How am I going to pay for it?’ ”

Delays with PIP and the pressure they put on people with long-term illness haven't been reported "in as high profile a way, compared to some of the other issues within the cost-of-living-crisis”, argues Morgan Wild, policy director at Citizens Advice. Eligibility to claim PIP is one of the organisation's “biggest advice areas”, Wild continued; last year 200,000 people sought help on the issue. “And that's in large part due to delays in processing claims. We are talking about very large lead-in times for people to receive payments, which are essential in helping them meet the additional costs associated with their disability or illness.”

* Note: ADP refers to Adult Disability Payment, the Scottish Government's replacement for PIP. This was introduced in March 2022, replacing PIP for working age adult residents in Scotland.

[See also: The cost-of-living crisis is pushing disabled people into poverty]

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