26,000 cancer patients put at risk by ‘failing’ Universal Credit system, charity warns

Thousands of cancer patients — including many at the end of their lives — will be put at risk if they are forced to move over to Universal Credit, according to Macmillan Cancer Support.

The charity, which gives financial and welfare advice to people with cancer, is calling for flaws in the system to be fixed before up to 26,000 more people with the disease are moved over to it.

It warns current Universal Credit rules mean that cancer patients face a five-week wait before they receive any money at all.

This even applies to those with a terminal diagnosis, because the ‘fast track’ process for people with less than six months to live has been removed. It means people at the end of their lives are now waiting longer than ever for vital financial support.

The National Audit Office also found around two in three (67%) people with health conditions or disabilities did not receive their first Universal Credit payment on time, so many people with cancer will face even longer delays.

The side effects of cancer and its treatment can affect someone’s ability to work. As a result, cancer costs an average of £570 a month for the majority (83%) of patients, due to lost income and extra outgoings, such as increased household bills due to feeling the cold more.

More than a quarter (28%) of those diagnosed have no savings to fall back on and the welfare system provides a vital safety net to help people manage the impact of their illness.

Any delays or obstacles to receiving financial support can be a source of extreme worry and financial hardship at an already difficult time.

Macmillan Cancer Support warns people currently must apply for Universal Credit online, which is an added stress for someone in hospital, without a computer, or the skills, to do so.

Others are being forced to travel to Job Centres to complete their applications, despite cancer treatment often leaving them with fatigue and at risk of infection.

Changes to the consent process also make it more difficult for advice services, like Macmillan’s Benefit Advisors, to support people with their claim. This can make the process even harder.

Currently, fewer than half (46%) of people with a long-term health condition are able to complete their Universal Credit claim in one attempt and the charity received more than 215 calls about Universal Credit issues last month alone.

Grandmother of two Angela Raine had to give up her 13-year job in a pharmacy when she was diagnosed with incurable breast cancer last year and became too unwell to work. The married 55-year-old, from Stanley, County Durham, said: “Trying to apply for benefits has been a complete nightmare. I can’t explain quite how stressful it is — I want to cry just thinking about it. I was trying to cope with being told I may die and yet at the same time I’m having to fight to just get a little money, so that we can survive.

“Navigating the system is a nightmare, that’s quite honestly the only way I can describe it. The forms are all so confusing and difficult. It’s as if they do that to stop you from applying. I don’t have an email address because I don’t use the computer, but without an email address, you can’t apply or fill in the form. The whole system is utterly inflexible and doesn’t take into account individual circumstances. My Macmillan welfare advisor Peter was completely fantastic, I couldn’t have got through it without him.”

Former bar manager Neil MacVicar, 26, was living in Islington, London, when he was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2016. He had to give up work and temporarily move back to his family home in Inverness, Scotland, to be cared for by his mother and father, because of the intensity of his treatment.

He said: “After my treatment I went to the Job Centre to apply for Universal Credit. I had to sit in front of the computer for six hours to fill the whole form in. It was embarrassing. You feel like you’re being penalised for being unwell.

“I am terrified that this may happen to someone who does not have the support I have and I am incredibly angry with this horrible system. This whole experience with Universal Credit has left me feeling totally abandoned, depressed and anxious.”

A near empty food cupboard. Photo: Oxfam.

Macmillan is calling for the Government to urgently fix the existing issues with Universal Credit, before any more vulnerable people move over to the system. Under current plans, people with cancer who are already claiming benefits will have to apply for Universal Credit and could be at risk of losing their benefits altogether if they struggle with the process.

Macmillan Cancer Support’s chief executive Lynda Thomas said: “People with cancer should be able to focus their energy on their health, not worrying about how to make ends meet when they are too unwell to work.

“It is unacceptable to force patients to risk infection at Job Centres, log onto computers from hospital and wait more than a month for vital financial support, even at the end of their lives.

“The system is failing people with cancer and we urge the Government to fix this benefit, before tens of thousands more vulnerable people are put at risk of hardship.”

Anyone in need of welfare advice can call Macmillan’s free support line on 0808 808 00 00 or visit www.macmillan.org.uk

Disclaimer: This is an official press release from Macmillan Cancer Support. Images added by Welfare Weekly.

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