Universal Credit extension plea from cancer charity

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A LEADING cancer charity today warned the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the devastating financial impact of a cancer diagnosis on an individual’s quality of life and mental wellbeing.

New figures from Macmillan Cancer Support show that around 36,000 people with cancer in Scotland, 14% of the total cancer population of 260,000, were experiencing some kind of financial impact from Covid-19 in the run-up to the current national lockdown, with around 10,000 (4%) struggling to pay for basic essentials such as food, bills, rent or their mortgage as a result of it.

Even before the pandemic, one in three (32%) people with cancer in Scotland – around 83,000 people – were severely financially affected by their diagnosis.

The charity says calls to its financial guidance team on its Support Line are two-fifths (41%) higher than during the first month of lockdown. Its main welfare benefits information page has had more than 40,000 hits, more than its pages on chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

Macmillan’s new research shows that across the UK, more than two in three (70%) people with cancer who are struggling with basic living costs have experienced stress, anxiety or depression as a result of the pandemic.

A shocking one in four (24%) of the group have experienced thoughts of taking their own lives in recent months. They are eight times more likely to have had thoughts of taking their own lives than people with cancer who are not struggling to pay these costs, (3%).

Ahead of the Budget next week, Macmillan is urging the UK Government to provide much needed certainty and make the £20 increase in Universal Credit permanent to help support those who are in desperate need of this vital financial support. The charity is also calling for the uplift to be extended to those claiming ‘legacy’ benefits.

Jacqueline Coyle, a Macmillan Welfare Officer in Scotland, sees daily the effect financial stresses have on people with a cancer diagnosis and their family.

Ms Coyle said: “I’ve been doing this job since 2008 and the financial implications that come with a cancer diagnosis is nothing new but there has definitely been a shift in the number of people seeking financial help, particularly those of a working age.

“When you throw into the mix, the knock-on effect of a pandemic, with furlough and job losses, then you can understand the added anxiety and pressures that can bring on top of being diagnosed with cancer. There’s so much uncertainty around. Normally people would receive company sick pay, but of course a lot are on furlough and being made redundant. The volume of concern and desperation has increased considerably.”

Ms Coyle said online applications for Universal Credit can throw up many challenges.

She added: “The system was meant to simplify things, but it can be quite complicated. It can also take quite a bit of time before people start to receive money when they have nothing. They find themselves unable to pay bills, unable to put food on the table and quite possibly struggling to keep a roof over their head.”

Steven McIntosh, Director of Advocacy and Communications at Macmillan Cancer Support, said people they speak to are worried about bills and putting food on the table.

Mr McIntosh said: “Even pre-pandemic, we know that many people with cancer who rely on benefits are struggling to get by. Day in and day out, we speak to people who are worried about starting their cancer treatment because they just don’t know how they will pay their bills or put food on the table.

“The impact of Covid-19 has revealed the need to ensure vital support for those who need it most is not cut back. It’s critical that the Government make the £20 per week Universal Credit increase permanent and extend this increase to legacy benefits. If they don’t choose to act now, there is a real risk that people struggling most with the costs of cancer will be left out in the cold.”

A UK Government spokesperson said: “We understand this is an extremely challenging time for people living with cancer and know how important support during the pandemic has been, which is why we’ve boosted welfare support by billions. 

“The UK Government has also provided an additional £9.7 billion in funding this financial year to the Scottish Government to tackle the pandemic. This is on top of the block grant and in addition to direct UK Government support to people and businesses in Scotland.”

Macmillan wants to ensure everyone affected by cancer during the pandemic is making use of its round-the-clock support and is urging patients and their loved ones to contact its phoneline (0808 808 00 00). Macmillan’s cancer information and support specialists are able to offer confidential support money worries, work or treatment.

As part of the #KeepTheLifeline campaign by Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Macmillan alongside 100 other think tanks, charities, religious leaders and organisations have signed a letter asking the chancellor to permanently increase Universal Credit benefits by £20 a week.

For anyone experiencing issues outlined in this piece, please contact Samaritans on 116 123. Anyone can contact Samaritans for free in confidence any time from any phone, even a mobile without credit, and the number won’t show up on your phone bill. Or email [email protected]

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