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Thousands of cancer patients 'struggling to keep their homes and pay off debt', says Macmillan

By Valerie Edwards

Published 05/10/2015

David Dodson, from North Belfast, underwent major head and neck surgery in 2011, when tests on a lump beneath his jaw revealed he had tonsil cancer
David Dodson, from North Belfast, underwent major head and neck surgery in 2011, when tests on a lump beneath his jaw revealed he had tonsil cancer

A former cancer patient from North Belfast said he is one of 400,000 across the UK struggling to pay their bills as a result of being diagnosed with cancer.

New research shows that more than a million people with cancer (42%) are struggling to keep up with their household bills and credit commitments. One in three (36%) of these say they are struggling to keep up with their household bills and credit commitments either entirely or partly because of their diagnosis.

A UK-wide YouGov poll carried out by Macmillan Cancer Support questioned 2,011 adults with cancer and asked about their financial situation over the last 12 months.

In order to keep up with payments:

· One in three (34%) used their savings

· One in 11 (9%) used a credit (or store) card (that is not settled each month)

· One in 13 (8%) sold their belongings such as a personal item or car

· One in 25 (4%) had to downsize or sell their home

· One in 30 (3%) took out a loan from someone like a bank, building society, finance company or payday lender

David Dodson from North Belfast underwent major head and neck surgery in 2011, when tests on a lump beneath his jaw revealed he had tonsil cancer. The former lorry driver, who had been used to lifting and carrying heavy weights and was a karate instructor, had to give up work and his wife, who’s a nurse, took time off from her job to look after him.

One year later and the 55-year-old was still unable to life his arms. He and his wife depending on their savings, but their funds quickly ran out.

He said: “We were comfortably off. Our children had grown up and left home. We were both earning a good wage and ploughing everything into our dream home. But without two wages coming in, we had to use our savings to keep up with the mortgage. There was no money left to pay for food, let alone the heating.

“The bills kept coming in with threatening letters from the bank. We stopped eating properly and tried to hide our real situation from our family. Until one day, I just looked at the wife and said, ‘I’ve had enough. We can’t go on like this.’

“It would have taken too long to sell the house. We were too far into debt. I just handed the keys back to the mortgage company and we had to walk away from the home we’d spent so long and so much effort doing up. That was another ‘slow motion’ moment, which didn’t seem real – just like the moment when I was told I had cancer.”

Across the UK, Macmillan Cancer Support is warning that potential upcoming changes to welfare provisions could leave many people with cancer without the support they need.

Barry McVeigh from Macmillan said: “David’s story is one of many. Many cancer patients are suddenly faced with a life-changing diagnosis and loss of income, if they or their partner have to stop working. No one should have to worry about where the money to pay for their heating is going to come from when they’re going through cancer, or be forced to buy less nutritious food at a time when they need it the most.

“The fact is, though, cancer has a physical and financial impact. This latest research shows that here in Northern Ireland 30% of cancer patients have had to borrow money to pay bills and meet their credit commitments and we know from previous research that 75% of people with cancer here find themselves financially worse off, by around £300 on average.

“The UK government, Northern Ireland Executive, health service and voluntary sector must work together to ensure that all cancer patients can focus on their health without additional money worries.”

The research also shows that one in three (32%) people living with cancer had to borrow money in the past year to help pay their bills.

Of the cancer patients who borrowed money to pay bills, the average amount borrowed over the last 12 months was £1,270. In some cases (2%) cancer patients had borrowed over £10,000 in the last year.

The survey asked people about the impact of struggling to keep up with rent or mortgage payments, or household bills and credit commitments and found that:

· One in six (17%) didn’t buy new clothes when they needed them

· One in seven (14%) bought cheaper but less nutritious food

· One in ten (10%) skipped or reduced the size of their meals

· One in eleven (9%) sold their possessions

Last year, the charity helped over 6,000 people with cancer here claim £11 million in welfare payments and paid out more than £650,000 in additional Macmillan patient grants.

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