I have two very good friends who are dying of cancer.
It is a cruel disease that takes people before their time and robs families of their loved ones.
All of us, I hope, would want to treat those suffering from the disease with compassion and give all the support we can as they deal with radiotherapy, chemotherapy or palliative care.
I was therefore appalled to listen to cases of people being treated as though they were dole bludgers and made constantly to produce medical certificates to prove they are ill in order to get financial support. They deserve better than that.
Robyn Kilpatrick, who is battling breast cancer says that never before in her life has she needed to claim a benefit. Now she needs to. Her surgeon has signed off a form saying that she will need to be off work until at least January next year.
Despite that, the Government insists that she gets a fresh medical certificate every month to prove she is ill. On the day of her surgery, she had to get someone from the hospital to tell Work and Income that she had been operated on. She also gets letters from Work and Income telling her to get out and look for a job.
The Cancer Society quite rightly describes Robyn’s situation as ‘ludicrous and insensitive’.
Its Chief Executive says that it’s ridiculous that even terminally ill people have to reapply for exemptions not to be job seekers.
Social Development Minister Anne Tolley defends the system and says that giving ‘special treatment’ to cancer patients would ‘undermine the intention behind redesigning the system in 2013’ and that other groups of people would come forward and say “we need special treatment too!
With respect, I think that’s nonsense. The system that the government has devised lacks common sense, sensitivity and decency. It should treat not only people with cancer but also others facing serious illnesses in a compassionate and sensitive way. The system should not be adding unnecessarily to their problems.
When people are seriously or terminally ill, it is wrong to submit them to treatment to make them feel as though they are potentially bludging off the system.
Claire Austin from the Cancer Society says that the new system is distressing for patients and that many have given up on trying to get support. People in need are missing out while the taxpayer is paying more for a system which is complex and expensive to run.
It is time for the Minister to stop making excuses for something that’s not working.
She should instead focus on building a system which is based on acknowledging that people with serious conditions don’t have to keep proving it. She should show the compassion needed by people who are struggling with a life and death condition.
Robyn Kilpatrick says in a letter to Prime Minister John Key, “I am 45 and I have cancer. I am not trying to skive off work. I have worked and paid taxes since turning 16. The last thing (I need) while going through an unexpected illness like cancer is to end up jumping through hoops with the government!”
Phil Goff is former Foreign Affairs, Trade and Justice Minister and has been Member of Parliament for almost 35 years. Elected from Mt Roskill, he is today Labour Party’s Spokesperson for Ethnic Affairs and Auckland Issues.