Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Cancer patients face further financial woes as welfare reforms loom

A leading cancer charity says 70% of cancer patients face financial worries as a direct result of their disease. Macmillan Cancer Support says there are increased costs and lost income to contend with - and that could get worse under government plans to reduce patient support in the Welfare Reform Bill.

In August, YouGov polled 1,495 cancer patients for Macmillan and found:
  • 66% had increases costs, including travel to hospital and/or an increase in household expenses
  • 43% of all cancer patients are anxious due directly to their financial situation
  • 17% of those financially affected cut back on everyday essentials such as food
  • 5% skip meals to save money
  • 7% are scared of losing their home
  • 29% of those financially affected have spent all or some of their savings
  • 9% have borrowed money to cover the extra costs of cancer

Macmillan says changes to benefits under the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) will make 7,000 cancer patients up to £94 a week worse off. Other proposals mean cancer patients who need immediate financial help after a diagnosis will have to wait six months instead of three for Personal Independence Payments (PIP) which are replacing Disability Living Allowance (DLA). Macmillan worked out these figures from estimates of the number of cancer patients in the Work-Related Activity Group of ESA, or those who are currently claiming Incapacity Benefit but who will be placed in the Work-Related Activity Group following the reassessment of all Incapacity Benefit claimants.

Macmillan policy analyst Tom Cottam said many people with cancer are very concerned about the changes to benefits: "A significant number, over two fifths, felt really quite anxious [about] their financial situation and how the reforms are going to affect them. People with cancer are already feeling the pinch as a result of increased costs, such as travelling to hospital, paying parking charges when you get there, extra fuel that's required because they spend so much time at home; also having to leave work quite often to undergo treatment."

It isn't just cancer patients who are concerned at the changes to the benefits changes. At the weekend, thousands of disabled people joined anti-cuts rallies across the country. The Disability Benefits Consortium and the UK Disabled People’s Council say disabled people are already twice as likely to live in poverty as non-disabled people and families with a disabled child are estimated to be £50 a week worse-off than those without. 

In an emailed statement, a DWP spokesperson says: "Recovering cancer patients who are assessed as still needing unconditional Government support will be placed in the support group of ESA and will see no change to their benefit entitlement after 12 months. Nor will there be any change for those on income-related ESA.

"The Government is committed to protecting those who need help the most and has asked Professor [Malcolm] Harrington [appointed by the government to carry out an independent review of the work capability assessment] and Macmillan to look at whether we can improve the support we give to cancer patients. We have already made changes to Employment and Support Allowance so that people in-between courses of certain types of chemotherapy, as well as those receiving it, automatically receive unconditional support."

Tom Cottam from Macmillan tells us: "For those people who might be in the last few months of life with a terminal illness, or people who are so severely affect by their condition that they require unconditional support, it's correct that their benefit won't be affected, but there's a significant number of people who might be able to do some work in the future, and might be able to do some small things to help them prepare for work. They are going to lose some of their support after 12 months. If their partner earns as little as £150 a week they won't be eligible for any further benefit after 12 months. It's those people who are making that journey back to work who might need longer than 12 months who are going to be affected by this change."

Macmillan has been campaigning on benefit reforms and how they affect cancer patients since the changes were first announced. "On some areas, we've had quite a constructive dialogue with government," Tom Cottam says, "but on this issue around the time limiting of the ESA they're being quite robust. Their defence is that savings have to be made, and while we understand our national finances are in a precarious position, we think that taking some really crucial support away from vulnerable cancer patients who've paid into the system and are doing all they can to get back to work, is just not the right area to be cutting."

Macmillan is hoping these areas can be addressed when the House of Lords looks at the Welfare Bill and peers, "will stand up for cancer patients and will amend the bill to make changes to ensure sure cancer patients and disabled people more widely are not penalised for not getting back to work quickly enough."

If cancer patients have financial concerns, Tom Cottam says Macmillan's support line (0808 808 0000) can help: "We can give access to benefits advisers who can look at an individual's finances, try and understand what they may be eligible for, and try and work with cancer patients to deal with debt and things like that."