Jodie is 31 and lives in London, last October she was given the devastating news that she had breast cancer. A few weeks later she was told it had spread to her bones. She had to give up work almost immediately and suddenly found herself with barely enough money to live on. Jodie was advised by her nurse to apply for the Personal Independence Payment, the UK's main disability benefit, which would offer her some financial support. She applied in November, but seven months on and she is still waiting to find out if she is eligible. She is now at crisis point, struggling to pay for day-to-day expenses such as food and bills. This is unacceptable.
Tragically, Jodie's story is not just a one-off. Macmillan Cancer Support have uncovered that at least 4,500 people with cancer are waiting more than six months just to hear whether they are even eligible for this benefit - the Personal Independence Payment (PIP)
The UK's benefits system is currently failing people with cancer. PIP was introduced last summer to replace the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) as the UK's main disability benefit. It aimed to save money, simplify the system and continue to offer financial support to those who are out of work due to long-term ill-health or a disability.
For people with cancer, this support is crucial. Cancer is an expensive disease - many patients need to take time off work as they struggle to cope with the effects of treatment and recovery. Costs soar as they suddenly need to pay for additional needs as a result of their illness such as transport, heating - as they feel the cold more - or specialist food or clothing. Benefits are a lifeline for cancer patients to help them cover these additional costs. .
Under the previous system of DLA people would need to wait around 11 weeks for a decision on their claim. But since DLA was replaced PIP, Macmillan research shows that average waiting times for decisions have almost doubled to more than 19 weeks.
These delays are a further blow to people with cancer who have to prove that they have been affected by their disease for at least three months before they can even be considered eligible for financial help. Many people now feel they have to fight to receive the support to which they are entitled, adding unnecessary stress at a time when they should be focusing on their health.
Coping with the effects of cancer can be stressful enough without the added worry of whether they will have enough money to pay the bills or even buy food. The government has a duty to ensure that the new disability benefit works at least as well as the old one.
The Department for Work and Pensions has shown that it can act quickly and decisively to address these issues. After problems processing PIP claims for terminally ill claimants, they have committed to reducing those claims to seven days. However, the system needs to work for all people with cancer. We want to see processing times down to 11 weeks as a matter of urgency.
These delays are affecting thousands of people with cancer and their families like Jodie and adding stress to people at an already difficult time. This needs fixing now, people simply cannot afford to continue waiting.
No-one should face financial worries alone. For financial support visit www.macmillan.org.uk/financialsupport to find your nearest face-to-face benefits adviser, or call us free on 0808 808 00 00.
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