Long-term cancer patient, Chris Lewis, has set up the first charity in the world to pay for the mobile phones and SIM cards of people affected by the disease who are no longer able to pay their bills.
The former business consultant from Croydon says the people simPal is helping includes everyone from single mums, who can give their child a mobile phone to stream Netflix while they’re sitting in the hospital waiting room, to homeless people who have no other means of being contacted by their doctor.
“We’re probably their last resort quite frankly,” he says of the 300 people currently benefitting from the service. “If we weren’t there these people wouldn’t be helped, and we want to serve the people that the other big charities cannot.”
Lewis knows only too well about the services on offer for cancer patients - himself being diagnosed with stage four incurable Mantle Cell Lymphoma (a blood cancer) in 2007 and given only six months to live.
“Initially I didn’t bother making long-term plans,” he tells HuffPost UK over the phone. But as more time passed and months turned to years, the grandfather was fed up of resting in bed and wanted to do something with his time, despite not being well enough to return to his previous full-time employment.
“My next challenge was in many respects worse than dealing with the cancer, finding my life and my purpose again.”
Lewis wanted to help the people who are being pushed into ‘cancer poverty’ in the UK, unable to afford to pay bills: reports found 68% of people with cancer said the primary reason they were being pushed into debt - including credit card debt and arrears from missed rent - was their ill health.
We’re dealing with people around the country who have no money...'
“So many people in this country are affected by cancer poverty,” says Lewis. “If the breadwinner or a single parent is sick, there is no income other than benefits. We’re dealing with people around the country who have no money.”
Although a mobile phone might seem a luxury, when compared to having food on the table or a roof over your head, Lewis says it is a vital line of communication for people who are ill, many of them in the final stages of life.
“It’s no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity,” he says. “It is simply the way we all communicate. Loosing a phone is like having a limb cut off for many people.”
The charity is available to anyone affected by cancer - so this isn’t just the patient themselves - and gives an initial six month contract of either a mobile handset or just a SIM card with preloaded data.
“The idea was that in six months, gives people the space to sort themselves out. We don’t want to be a permanent crutch for people, just to help in their hour of need.”
But currently relying on funding solely from individual and corporate donations, to fund all of their work, as they have no official grants, Lewis is keen to stress they are always looking for more supporters.
It is also different to many other services in that it isn’t means tested; a decision taken by Lewis and his business partner Blair Papworth, after seeing the forms many patients are required to fill out for other financial benefits.
Lewis says: “When we set this up we didn’t want means testing, we do no contract signing. The patient doesn’t have to sign anything, they just get what they need and what we can give.”
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