Cost of living crisis: How 750,000 cancer patients are in financial dire straits

Patients grappling with illness amid cost of living crisis can afford neither to heat nor eat, research from Macmillan Cancer Support reveals

Source > iNews

By Sarah Davidson Money Editor

May 5, 2022 7:00 am

Hundreds of thousands of people living with cancer are being forced to make spending cuts that put their health at risk, with one in four saying they feel like they just “can’t afford life at the moment”. Data published by Macmillan Cancer Support paints a disturbing picture, with almost three quarters of a million people with cancer in the UK living in financial dire straits.

Since December, the charity found that one in four people with cancer in the UK has either been buying less food or making fewer hot meals to try to cope with the soaring cost of living. This includes 26 per cent of those currently having treatment.

Around a million cancer patients have resorted to wearing coats or dressing gowns indoors to try to stay warm without spending more, as energy bills soar by hundreds of pounds. One in six said they had been washing clothing or bedding less, or not at all, to keep costs down.

These cuts are going to impact people’s health negatively because good levels of nutrition, warmth and hygiene are essential in aiding recovery, the charity said.

“Many people with cancer already face a significant financial hit from an array of extra and often unexpected costs that can come with a diagnosis,” said Dr Anthony Cunliffe, Macmillan’s national clinical adviser for primary care.

Higher energy bills are already typical for those with cancer as they try to keep warm during treatment, while the travel costs of getting to and from appointments can very quickly add up to hundreds of pounds.

This financial pressure is compounded for many patients who also see a potential drop in earnings if they are less able to work.

Dr Cunliffe said: “At a time when people living with cancer need their health to be their priority, it’s devastating to hear the toll the cost of living crisis is taking on the wellbeing of so many people.

“Nutrition, warmth and hygiene are all vital in keeping people with cancer well enough for treatment and aiding their recovery, and to hear that people are being forced to deprive themselves of these essentials is hugely concerning.”

Macmillan research shows that 83 per cent of people with cancer in the UK experience some kind of financial impact from their diagnosis, and for those affected this reaches an average of £891 a month, on top of their usual expenditure.

Worryingly, on top of the financial pressures of a diagnosis and the soaring cost of living, people with cancer who claim Personal Independence Payment (PIP) are also facing significant delays – an average of 22 weeks – to receiving their first payment.

Christopher Jones, energy team leader on the support line at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “Every day we are hearing from more and more people living with cancer who are feeling the enormous pressure of the rising cost of living, on top of the extra costs a diagnosis can already bring.

“We used to hear about people choosing between eating and heating, but now we are hearing from people who can’t afford either. People with cancer need to live, not just survive and we are urging anyone worried about money to access the support available from Macmillan. We are here to make sure people get the help they need and deserve.”

Macmillan has seen a high level of demand for its financial need support services over the past few months, with the number of calls about energy alone answered by the experts on the charity’s support line jumping by 87 per cent since the new energy bill price cap came into effect on 1 April, compared to the same time last year.

To help meet the soaring need, Macmillan has pledged an extra £3.5m in funding into its financial grants scheme. The charity is urging anyone worried about money to access support available from Macmillan.

You can find out more about financial support available at, call the free support line on 0808 808 00 00, seven days a week, 8am-8pm or access peer-to-peer support 24 hours a day via Macmillan’s Online Community.

Case study: ‘No matter what cuts we make, we straight up can’t afford life any more’

Mother of one Lara Burwell, aged 30, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2019
Mother of one Lara Burwell, aged 30, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2019

Mother of one Lara Burwell, aged 30, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2019 and is currently undergoing treatment. She lives with her partner and young son in Somerset and used to work as a nursery manager.

“For me, cancer and the spiralling cost of living is the worst possible combination – no matter what cuts we make to save money, we straight up can’t afford life any more,” she told i.

“I have overwhelming anxiety as all the money worries add up, and on top of this I am so fearful about how our standard of living will affect my cancer recovery.

“We’ve completely cut out heating, which is horrible as my treatment means I get really cold, but even with that saving I’m not sure we can afford the rent any more.”

The cost of petrol and parking to get to hospital for treatment three times a week is mounting, and alongside all of this, the process of getting Personal Independence Payments to help with the life-changing side effects of cancer has been “relentless”, said Ms Burwell.

“It has taken a three-year battle and two more tumours for me to finally receive the support I’m entitled to.

“Macmillan has been an amazing support with my benefits appeal tribunal and helping me get a disabled badge so I don’t have to walk up hills to go to hospital any more, but I do just wish this wasn’t how my life was.”

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