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Ciaran Devane

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Cancer Patients Deserve the Government's Support

Posted: 12/01/12 15:54

Last night's crucial vote in the House of Lords is a tremendous victory for cancer patients. But more than that, it was a strong warning to the government that people do not accept that it is necessary to take money from the ill and the disabled in order to cut the UK's deficit. As Lord Patel so eloquently put it: 'If we are going to rob the poor to pay for the rich, we have entered a new form of morality.' The Lords have struck a blow for common-sense and compassion.

Asking peers to accept an arbitrary one year time limit for Employment and Support Allowance payments for cancer patients and others to recover from their gruelling treatment and get back behind a desk or onto the factory floor was always going to be a tough sell, and so it proved yesterday evening.

For many cancer patients one year is simply not long enough to make a recovery. Getting to a point when you're ready to return to work can take years not months in some cases. We have a responsibility - as the Lords have recognised - to make sure that these vulnerable patients get the financial support they need, for as long as they need it. When people have been working hard and contributing to National Insurance throughout their lives, it is grossly unfair to cut the support available to them when through no fault of their own they become ill and undergo treatment which makes them more so.

We also have to remember, as Lord Patel emphasised last night, that we are not asking the government to find extra money. We are simply asking them to reduce the level of savings they are proposing to make in order to protect some of the most vulnerable people in society.

The 222 peers who backed Lord Patel's amendment to protect cancer patients deserve enormous credit for standing up for cancer patients and having the courage to throw out time-limiting. The whole cancer community - everyone from cancer charities, patients, academics and cancer specialists - has been steadfast in its opposition to time-limiting over the last year and we're delighted that Lords have chosen to reject it too.

In rejecting the government's plans so overwhelmingly, the Lords have sent the clearest message to Coalition Ministers that they need to return to the drawing board. The fact that so many Liberal Democrat Lords failed to support the government should give Ministers food for thought and reiterate to them that they do not have a moral mandate on this issue.

Disappointingly, the government has shown no indication so far since last night's vote that it is willing to think again - or even to compromise. And if it is true that they attempted late at night to overturn the Lords then our concern is not only about the Commons endorsing the decision of the upper chamber, but for the government to listen to the democratic process.

For the next few weeks we will be working hard to persuade MPs of all parties to endorse last night's amendment when the Bill returns to the Commons in February. In particular, we hope that Liberal Democrat MPs will follow the example set by their party conference and by their colleagues in the Lords and vote to give cancer patients the protection that they deserve.

In my view it's a simple question of social justice: vulnerable cancer patients who've paid in all their lives and done the right thing, deserve our support when they're going through - what is quite literally - the fight of their lives.