By Gus Baldwin – Head of Public Affairs
Parliament dissolves on Monday.
Macmillan’s Public Affairs Team was joking last week about what a strange expression that is.
As if, on cue, the Palace of Westminster suddenly turns into bubbling, liquidy blob and slips into the Thames – like a particularly scary scene from Doctor Who.
The last six months has also seen Parliament dubbed a ‘Zombie Parliament’ because of the lack of legislative activity and as MPs’ focus on their constituencies – so it is perhaps particularly apt to think of a Doctor Who episode.
The imminent dissolution of Parliament has also got the team thinking about what we’ve done for people affected by cancer over the past five years, and what the future has in store.
The biggest battle we had in Parliament feels like a long time ago. It is over three years since we took on the Government about its welfare reform proposals.
Seven thousand cancer patients who couldn’t work during treatment were going to lose £94 a week from their Employment and Support Allowance benefit under the Government’s original Welfare Reform Bill.
We felt that was very unfair and decided to take a stand.
We helped inflict three defeats on the Government in the Lords in January 2012 to get a fairer deal for all disabled people.
While the Government eventually overturned those votes in the Commons we were still able to protect cancer patients from the cuts.
We also made the case for cancer during the two big pieces of health and social care legislation during this Parliament.
Through the 2012 Health and Social Care Act we secured the future of cancer networks, albeit that they got a name-change to Strategic Clinical Networks and were given less money.
Then with the Care Bill last year we campaigned successfully for the NHS to have a clearer role – alongside local authorities – in identifying cancer carers.
The hope is that as more carers are identified they are more likely to be given additional support to cope with the demands of looking after someone with cancer.
We’ve also spent a lot of this Parliament encouraging MPs and Lords to support the gathering and publishing of one and five year cancer survival rate data.
This new focus on outcomes has been hugely significant. We’ve been able to shine a light on the variable performance of different parts of the country, but also see how the UK compares to other European countries – not very well is the answer!
I’m personally very proud of the way we’ve got more people affected by cancer more involved in the work of Parliament over the past five years.
The Macmillan Parliamentary Question Time is now an annual institution.
We’ve also supported more people affected by cancer to talk directly to their local MPs at Westminster and in their local constituency.
Our ‘Westminster drop-ins’ on a range of topics have also been popular with people affected by cancer, Macmillan professionals and MPs.
Last year we also had our first ever World’s Biggest Coffee Morning in Parliament which showed just how much the people who work within the Palace love and care about Macmillan and the work we do to support them.
It’s a shame we can’t jump into the Doctor’s Tardis to see what the next five years hold for people affected by cancer.
Even without the ability to travel through time we know that the UK cancer population is going to grow from 2.5 million now to three million by 2020.
And it will be four million a decade later.
That’s why it is so important that during the General Election all political parties show they understand the looming cancer crisis and are prepared to act now to prevent it.
As the current Parliament dissolved we don’t yet know whether its successor will be a Dr Who villain, a hero or a zombie.
All we know is that millions of people affected by cancer desperately need its leadership and time is running out…