Thousands of cancer sufferers will be too poor to celebrate Christmas this year and Tory cuts will make it worse, a leading charity has warned.
Research by Macmillan Cancer Support found that almost 700,000 people with cancer face the prospect of spending Christmas alone, cold and without enough money to buy presents for their loved ones.
The shocking figure represents 7% of all cancer sufferers in Britain.
A previous survey of nearly 1,000 people living with cancer revealed that nearly one in ten cancer sufferers will spend Christmas alone, because they cannot afford to visit friends and family.
Not only will they miss out on spending Christmas with loved-ones, but 28% will also spend the festive season in a home they are unable to adequately heat.
More than four in five are on average £570 a month worse off due to the cost of living with cancer.
Cancer sufferers often have to give up work because of the debilitating condition, whilst also facing additional costs such as travelling to hospital for crucial treatment. They’re also less likely to be entitled to sick pay beyond Statutory Sick Pay, says Macmillan.
Macmillan is calling on the government to reconsider its proposal to take away £30 a week from people claiming sickness benefits.
The government wants to slash payments for claimants in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), which includes cancer sufferers who the charity says are too ill to work.
The government’s proposal forms part of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, which is currently making its was through parliament, and reduces the value of ESA WRAG to the same amount as Jobseeker’s Allowance – up to £73.10 a week for single people aged 25 and over.
Cancer sufferers are already suffering a huge financial burden because of their diagnosis, says Macmillan. Those on low incomes of less than £10,000 a year will be hit hardest by the cuts, while struggling to fully recover from cancer.
Gemma Savory, 31, from the West Midlands, was diagnosed with bowel cancer last year. She says: “I was made redundant soon after my diagnosis and despite receiving benefits it just wasn’t enough to cover all the extra costs that come with cancer.
“Last Christmas was a real struggle but fortunately my wonderful colleagues helped me through it by selling Christmas cards for me which helped raise enough funds for me for Christmas Day.
“The financial impact of cancer is hard at the best of times but at Christmas I just felt so guilty for not being able to celebrate with family and friends.
“I didn’t choose to have cancer. It doesn’t even seem fair that I have to worry about this as well as having undergone gruelling radiotherapy, chemotherapy and having had two major surgeries.”
Lynda Thomas, Chief Executive at Macmillan Cancer Support said: “It’s heartbreaking that people are going through cancer, which is likely to be one of the most difficult times of their life, are also having to wake up on Christmas day in the cold, alone, without being able to have Christmas dinner or buy presents for their loved ones.
“Having cancer is an isolating time and being cut off financially because of a diagnosis makes life even harder.
“People with cancer can lose hundreds of pounds each month because of their diagnosis. To put a stop to this will be difficult but every sector, from the government, to the NHS, businesses and the voluntary sector must play their part.
“It is incomprehensible that the Government is pressing ahead with proposals to cut the benefits of people with cancer who have been medically assessed as unable to work by around £30 a week. This will make life even more difficult for this vulnerable group of people with cancer.
“The Government must recognise the financially exposed situation people with cancer often face and the impact this has on their quality of life, especially at this time of year.
“Macmillan knows many Lords and MPs oppose these proposals. Now we need them to speak up and support cancer patients as the Bill makes its way through Parliament. And we desperately need the Government to listen.”