Financial hardship linked to an eight-fold increase in suicidal thoughts among people with cancer during Covid-19

Macmillan Cancer Support is warning that coronavirus is exacerbating the already devastating financial impact of a cancer diagnosis on an individual’s quality of life and mental wellbeing.

Across London, new figures from the charity show that more than 16,000 people with cancer (8%) are struggling to pay for basic essentials such as food, bills, rent or their mortgage as a result of Covid-19 .

Ahead of the Budget next week (3rd March), Macmillan is urging the 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.

Around 42,000 with cancer in the London (20%) were experiencing some kind of financial impact from Covid-19 in the run-up to the current national lockdown , for many this will be in addition to the existing financial pressures of cancer itself. Even before the pandemic, one in two (53%) people with cancer in London were severely financially affected by their diagnosis .

Across the UK, more than two in three (70%) people with cancer who are struggling with these basic living costs have experienced stress, anxiety or depression as a result of Covid-19 . A shocking one in four (24%) of the group have experienced suicidal thoughts in recent months. They are eight times more likely to have had suicidal thoughts than people with cancer who are not struggling to pay these costs (3%).

The new findings also reflect Macmillan’s existing concerns about the impact of the financial strain of cancer on an individual’s quality of life. For example, one in six people with cancer in the UK (17%) experience an increase in their energy bills as a result of their diagnosis, of up to £100 a month on average – – just one reason why making the £20 Universal Credit increase permanent is so crucial.

Macmillan’s concerns are also mirrored by figures showing that calls to the 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 .

49-year old Judith Neptial is a mother of one from London and is currently living with Stage 4 bile duct cancer. She worked as a psychotherapist before having to give up her job when she became too sick.

“The £20 per week Universal Credit increase I receive goes towards the travelling costs I incur for medical appointments. The money is important now, more than ever before as it helps me avoid public transport during the pandemic.

“As a cancer patient, I’m acutely aware I’m in a clinically vulnerable group and constantly need to take more precautions to ensure my safety. The extra £80 a month is vital – it means it’s one less thing to worry about during an already anxious time to have cancer. For people like me, who are experiencing the financial impact of cancer, making the £20 Universal Credit increase permanent would provide much needed certainty”

Steven McIntosh, Director of Advocacy and Communications at Macmillan Cancer Support, says:
“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.”

Paul Spencer, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Mind says:
“The benefits system should be a safety net for those of us whose mental or physical health prevents us from earning enough to live on. Too often, however, people are left without the support they desperately need. Mind regularly hears from people experiencing mental health problems, who have been left short at the hands of a needlessly complicated and stressful system, which can worsen people’s mental health. Nobody should have to worry about not being able to afford basic essentials, especially during this devastating pandemic.

“With more people than ever relying on financial support to keep them afloat during this difficult period, it’s crucial that the UK Government commits to a fairer and more compassionate system. As a bare minimum they must make the £20 a week increase to Universal Credit (UC) permanent and extend this increase to the thousands of people still receiving older disability benefits – so people can afford to live and get by.”

The charity 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. Whatever may be on your mind, Macmillan is there to listen and support those in need.

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.

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