Cancer patients missing out in millions of pounds of benefits

Sarah BrealeyPeople with cancer in East Anglia are missing out on millions of pounds of benefits that could help them attend treatment and make their lives easier.Sarah Brealey

People with cancer in East Anglia are missing out on millions of pounds of benefits that could help them attend treatment and make their lives easier.

A report published today by Macmillan Cancer Support says that more than �1.7m in disability benefits is going unclaimed by people with terminal cancer in Norfolk, while people in Suffolk are missing out on �1.3m of benefits.

More than 43pc of terminally ill cancer patients in the east of England are dying without receiving either disability living allowance or attendance allowance - benefits to which they are automatically entitled. Millions more are going unclaimed by people with non-terminal cancer.

Macmillan says the low take-up is due to people not knowing they are eligible, the perceived stigma of claiming benefits and the long and confusing claims process.

In Suffolk, a benefits advice team was launched in partnership with the county council last September, and has already helped people with cancer to claim more than �700,000 in a variety of benefits.

Barbara Talbot, 49, a mother-of-one and grandmother-of-one from Norwich, had a rare and potentially deadly cancer in her ankle, but was preparing to miss life-saving treatment because she could not afford to stop work as a duty manager in a hotel.

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She said: "I was having operations and being told to rest, but I went back to work, which did not help me to recover. I didn't know how to claim anything. I had enough going on without that. I remember getting one claim form and it was 47 pages long. I just got it and threw it in the bin.

"The crunch came when I had to go for eight weeks of radiotherapy in London. The doctor said, 'Without it, the cancer will be back in six months, and we cannot guarantee we can save your life'.

"I thought, 'With eight weeks off work, I am going to lose my home.' I had already spent all my savings because of the treatment. In my mind I had decided I was not going to have the treatment.

"Then Macmillan came along and told me I was entitled to benefits, told me to stop work, and claimed the benefits for me. If it wasn't for them I would be dead."

Ms Talbot was first diagnosed in 1998 after two years of visits to the GP. The cancer returned in 2003. She is having checks every three months and has been told it is likely to return again. The side effects of the treatment have affected her health and made it impossible to return to work.

She urged patients to claim what they are entitled to. "When you have always done things for yourself and you suddenly have to ask for help, that can feel demeaning.

"My friend told me, 'You have worked all your life, paid into the system and you are entitled.' It is getting people to understand that it is not shameful."

Ciar�n Devane, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, says: 'It's tragic that cancer patients are struggling to make ends meet when there's money available.

"Benefits can make a real difference to people who often have to deal with money worries on top of having cancer."

Macmillan has launched a new online tool to help people with cancer claim benefits, at Benefits advisers can be contacted free on 0808 808 00 00.