Cuts to state-funded benefits and talk of an unprecedented triple dip recession paint a pretty bleak picture of the financial situation in the UK. Sadly the picture for people with cancer is bleaker still.
Everyone knows cancer is one of the toughest fights anyone can face. Struggling with gruelling treatment and dealing with the emotional impact of a diagnosis is difficult enough. What many people don't realise is that cancer is an expensive disease.
Four in five cancer patients in the UK are hit with a shocking average cost of £570 a month as a result of their illness, the same as the average monthly mortgage repayment.
The side effects of treatment and time off needed to attend hospital appointment appointments means that many people with cancer find themselves unable to continue to work or have to cut down their hours. This often results in their income halving at a time when people with cancer should be focussing on their health, not worrying about their wallets or purses.
As the economic crisis continues to bite and welfare cuts come into effect, people affected by cancer are also having to cope with additional financial burdens caused by their illness. Travelling backwards and forwards for treatment, parking at hospital, keeping the heating on because you feel the cold more and buying over-the-counter medicines to manage the side effects of treatment all add up to a large monthly bill which few can afford.
Combined with the fact that household bills have increased by 25% in the last five years, the impact of a cancer diagnosis can be financially crippling. Some cancer patients resort to turning off the heating even when they need it on to try to save money, others get into debt as they're simply unable to keep up with their household bills and others end up losing their homes.
At Macmillan, we believe no-one should face financial worries alone. The UK governments, businesses and the NHS must act urgently to ensure the right support is offered at the right time so that people living with cancer are not left to deal with the terrible financial strain alone.
The government must ensure that people living with cancer are protected from further cuts to welfare and are able to access vital benefits when they need it most. Macmillan evidence shows that every £1 invested in benefits advice services generates £19, much of which is spent in the local economy.
The NHS has an important role to play in ensuring people are given financial support and information early on in their cancer journey and referring them to appropriate advice services to help prevent more serious problems further down the line.
Employers must also be sensitive to the needs of their employees who have been diagnosed with cancer and support them to be able to come back to work following treatment in the right way, as is their legal duty.
With the number of people living with cancer in the UK doubling from two to four million by 2030, this is a growing problem which cannot be ignored. We must act now to protect the financially vulnerable from having to foot the bill for their illness. If not, the number of cancer patients being pushed into poverty by their illness will go up. And how will the state then afford to support them?
For more information on Macmillan's Cancer's Hidden Price Tag campaign visit www.macmillan.org.uk/hiddenpricetag.
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