Monday 22nd September 2014
Mac Voice, the magazine for Macmillan professionals: Autumn 2014
In Northern Ireland, Macmillan and Citizen's Advice are working together to provide benefits advice. Siobhan Edgar explains
I joined the Craigavon Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) in 2001 as an outreach worker and initially only spent a few hours on a Friday dealing with people affected by cancer. Now, as a Macmillan CAB adviser, I work 30 hours a week, see around eight people a day for face-to-face sessions and answer phone queries too. I am based in Craigavan Area Hospital.
This morning, I helped a 48-year old mother of two. She was treated for breast cancer a few years ago and has now been told she has secondary bone and liver cancer. Her husband is disabled. I carried out a full benefits check and filled out applications for Disability Living Allowance, a Blue Badge to make transport easier, and a Macmillan grant to help with bills.
One man I’ve spoken with at the hospital has terminal lung cancer. I phoned his wife as she was worried her claim for Carer’s Allowance had been turned down. She was relieved to hear she has been awarded a weekly increase of £34.20 in Pension Credit. She said it would make all the difference but that she wouldn’t have known where to start because neither she nor her husband had ever had to navigate the benefits system before. I hear that a lot.
Next stop: the chemotherapy ward. When I’m coming up to see people, staff try to find me a side room or a corner for some privacy. They make sure everyone knows who I am. Putting a face to a name seems to encourage a lot of people to come and see me, rather than just phoning a telephone number on a sign in reception.
It’s important because we know that 70% of people affected by cancer experience a drop in income and increased outgoings. Most of the grants Macmillan issued in Northern Ireland last year went towards heating bills. Last year, in the Southern Health and Social Care Trust area alone, we helped more than 750 clients claim almost £1.5 million in social security payments and grants. That’s an average of £1,830 per person. In some cases, though, it’s much, much higher.
The people who come to see me are worried about money. It’s my job to ensure that, when they leave, they’re able to forget their financial concerns and focus on treatment and recovery.
Macmillan Citizens Advice Bureau Benefits Adviser
Craigavon Area Hospital, County Armagh