2 May 2013
Four in five (80%) Scottish cancer patients are hit with an average cost of £420 a month as a result of their illness, almost the same cost as the average monthly mortgage payment.
For the first time, a comprehensive UK-wide study conducted on behalf of Macmillan Cancer Support, has looked at how cancer impacts on patients’ finances.
The research, by the University of Bristol, reveals that as the economic crisis continues to bite, many people living with cancer face the double whammy of increased costs and a loss of income, leaving them struggling to pay household bills or buy essentials.
Worryingly over a third (35%) of Scottish cancer patients are struggling to cope financially, with almost one in ten (8%) missing payments on their mortgage or rent and 12% failing to pay their council tax at least once in the year before they were surveyed.
Shockingly financial issues meant over a quarter (28%) went without keeping their home adequately warm in winter while almost one in ten (9%) missed paying at least one fuel bill in the 12-months before they were surveyed.
Increased household fuel costs – which affect most cancer patients as they struggle to keep warm after treatment - are a particular problem in Scotland compared to the rest of the UK.
Almost half (45%) of Scots patients had to spend an extra £31 a month to keep warm after diagnosis while across the UK just 33% of cancer patients faced higher fuel bills, paying out £24 a month more on average.
High travel costs also hit Scottish cancer patients with over half (52%) having to pay to travel to medical appointments, spending £87 a month on average.
Elspeth Atkinson, director of Macmillan Cancer Support in Scotland, said, 'This new research shows that cancer comes with real costs, almost as much as a second mortgage for many cancer patients.
'Combined with the current recession and with welfare cuts, the cost of the disease is hitting the most vulnerable hardest. With the number of people living with cancer in Scotland expected to double to almost 400,000 by 2030, this growing problem of cancer poverty cannot be ignored.'
One woman who has been hit by the cost of cancer is Kate Coulter, 52, who had to give up work in a nursing home after being diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2010.
The Ardrossan grandmother went from an income of around £800 a month to just £320 a month in statutory sick pay before going onto benefits.
Kate, who is still unable to work because of health problems caused by cancer treatment, said, 'I don’t think people understand the impact of cancer on your finances. If you’ve been working you take a big cut in income and that is very hard.
'I had to have the heating on all the time because I was constantly frozen because of the chemotherapy so my bills went up.
'When I go to the shops I need to count every penny as I go round because I don’t want to get to the till and not have enough to pay.'
Former NHS senior manager Nelson McFarlane, 54, also says cancer had a massive impact on his finances.
The 54-year-old Glasgow man had to give up work as he went through months of chemotherapy and radiotherapy after being diagnosed with tonsillar cancer in June 2011.
The dad, who is still recovering from the effects of this illness and treatment, said, 'After being off work for six months my pay dropped to half what it had been and then after another six months it stopped completely.
'I didn’t know anything about benefits or where to go for advice. When my pay stopped there was a big debate over whether I could get access to an occupational pension and I was three days away from going back to work despite still being very ill because I just couldn’t have coped financially. To me a cost of £420 seems very conservative.
'When you think of being diagnosed with cancer money isn’t something you really think about but if you can’t work there is a significant impact on your finances.
'It is very difficult to lose so much money and have financial worries on top of concerns about your health.
'I know many people will face a much worse situation than mine, especially if they work in the private sector or live alone and have no one else to help cover the essential bills.'
Macmillan in Scotland
Macmillan in Scotland has already worked with local councils and other organisations to develop a network of specialist benefits advice services, helping people with cancer claim over £100m in government benefits. Over the past five years alone the charity has also given out £7m in grants to cancer patients struggling to cope.
Macmillan’s director Elspeth added, 'We’ve known cancer poverty is a big problem for years and with the help of our partners we’ve made great strides towards tackling it but clearly much more remains to be done.
'It is vital we work together to make sure that in the future cancer patients can focus on their health and not on how they are going to pay for a roof over their head or heating.'
Anyone affected by cancer in need of financial advice or support should visit www.macmillan.org.uk/financialsupport or call 0808 808 00 00.