Law Change

A Staffordshire father's campaigning for benefits reform for seriously ill students is celebrating victory after a date was set for the changes he instigated to become law.

Ian Leech, from Burton on Trent has been a passionate advocate of benefits reform since his 20-year-old daughter Melissa, died from non-Hodgkin lymphoma in May 2008.

While undergoing treatment for lymphoma, Melissa was denied benefits and was told that she would either have to draw on her student loan to support herself or would have to quit her psychology degree course at Aston University.

After campaigning for two and a half years, the changes have finally been approved by ministers and will become law on November 1.

Ian's hard work means that students who get a long-term illness will be entitled to employment and support allowance, the successor to income support.

Ian is now liaising with Burton MP Andrew Griffiths to seek clarification on how long it will take benefits to be paid to seriously ill students but he said that the major battle in his campaign had been won.

Ian said: "There were times during Mel's illness when I came close to giving up. Dealing with a terminally ill child and trying to take on the Government was at times almost too much, but it was Mel's fighting spirit and her determination to make this 'wrong' right that gave me the strength to see this through.

"It is only now, when I see it on a Government paper, in black and white, that the enormity of what we've done is beginning to sink in.

"No one should have to wait nearly six months to receive financial support and hopefully this is the first step to ensuring that this doesn't happen again.

"Dealing with cancer as a patient and a carer is hard enough and I hope that for students who sadly find themselves in this situation, the financial side of things may be made a little easier."

Mr Leech's victory was welcomed by Sally Penrose, chief executive of the Lymphoma Association, which provides advice and support for lymphoma patients.

She said: "We're delighted that through Ian's hard work, there will now be a fairer benefits system for students battling lymphoma and other serious illnesses.

"We know that it can be a really stressful time for students and their families when they are first diagnosed with lymphoma so the change that Ian has passionately fought for will help alleviate the added financial stress."

Founded by patients in 1986, the Lymphoma Association is a specialist charity that provides medical information and emotional support to lymphatic cancer patients, their families and friends.