6 November 2009
Rob and Vicky Harris
Cancer patients are twice as likely to fall into fuel poverty according to new research by a leading cancer charity. A survey by Macmillan Cancer Support found that almost 20% of cancer patients are in fuel poverty – double the official UK figure.
Macmillan is calling for the Winter Fuel Payment to be extended to cancer patients in need and the terminally ill. The Welsh Assembly Government should also do more to ensure that cancer patients in Wales receive support from government and from energy companies to help reduce their bills and make their homes more energy efficient.
Cath Lindley, General Manager for Macmillan Cancer Support in Wales said:
'People with cancer spend more time at home as they’re often too ill to work. They feel the cold more because treatment can weaken their immune system, and then they need the heating on higher and for longer which leads to increased fuel bills; all at a time when their household income plummets.'
Following diagnosis, three-quarters (73%) of cancer patients in active treatment need to use their heating more yet those under 60 do not qualify for any help to pay for it.
Rob Harris and his family struggled to pay the bills when he was diagnosed with nasopharyngeal cancer. Rob, 25, from Swansea,received the diagnosis a week before his daughter, Ffion, was born. Rob said:
'I had to undergo three cycles of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiotherapy. My weight dropped from 17 and a half stone to 12 and a half in two months because I had trouble eating. As a result I constantly felt cold. I had to have the heating on in the house all the time and apart from visits to the hospital I stayed in the house 24/7.'
Robert, who worked for a sprinkler company, was off work for 15 months and his wife, Vicky, was on maternity leave at the time. He says they suffered financially:
'Our finances were drastically hit. I was off work and Vicky couldn’t go back as she was looking after Ffion. I was lucky because I was able to get a Macmillan grant which helped us pay the large fuel and electricity bills.'
Over one year, nearly 1,000 people in Wales who struggled with fuel bills received Macmillan’s help. The charity was able to award grants of nearly £175,000 to help cancer patients pay higher fuel bills. In South West Wales 120 people were awarded Macmillan fuel grants totalling more than £22,000.
Macmillan's research also found that 93% of people with cancer in fuel poverty are not on a social tariff. The charity is therefore asking the Westminster government to include cancer patients in need in the group entitled to the new mandatory social tariffs that energy companies will have to offer.
Cath Lindley continued:
'Statistics show that cancer patients and their families will suffer financially as a result of their illness. These money worries continue long after their treatment has ended as many have been forced to drain their savings or call on family to help them pay the bills. “They need to know that they can rely on vital help from energy companies and from the Government and as winter fast approaches, they need that support now.'
Macmillan Cancer Support is a member of the Wales Fuel Poverty Coalition that launched a Fuel Poverty Charter for Wales in October. The charter calls on Welsh Assembly Government Minister, Jane Davidson, to come up with a detailed action plan setting out how and when fuel poverty will be eradicated in Wales.
Support Macmillan’s campaign to freeze out fuel poverty for cancer patients by signing the pledge at www.macmillan.org.uk/fuelpoverty .
Anyone struggling with their fuel bills can get hold of a free fuel poverty fact sheet, as well as financial advice, by calling 0808 808 00 00 or visiting www.macmillan.org.uk/fuelpoverty .