Cancer patients nearing the end of their lives are losing out financially with approximately £8 million in disability benefits going unclaimed in Scotland every year.
A report released today by leading charity Macmillan Cancer Support also shows that nearly a third of people diagnosed with terminal cancer are not claiming benefits because the system is confusing.
Macmillan has established a network of financial advice services across Scotland that help people affected by cancer identify the benefits they are entitled to – largely Disability Living Allowance (DLA) or Attendance Allowance (AA).
And it said that the low uptake was due to ignorance of eligibility, the perceived stigma of claiming state benefits and the long and confusing process.
Every year, 26,000 Scots are diagnosed with cancer, the major cause of premature death in Scotland, with 15,000-plus fatalities.
By 2025, it is estimated that more than three million people in the UK will be living with cancer and one in three will be diagnosed with the disease over the course of our lives.
For those who have cancer, money worries are second only to physical pain as a cause of stress.
Nine out of 10 people with cancer report a significant drop in income and a quarter of people with children report significant difficulties paying their rent or mortgage and 6% of people lose their homes.
Allan Cowie, Macmillan’s general manager for Scotland, said: “The benefits system is confusing and complex and, for someone who is unwell, it can seem impossible to navigate.
“Cancer patients should be routinely given access to financial information at the time of diagnosis and as their condition progresses.
“This is because money worries are a huge source of stress to people, impacting on the quality of their lives and on their health. The last thing people should be worrying about towards the end of their lives is money.”
Macmillan’s latest Unclaimed Millions report has found that a staggering £90.8m is going unclaimed in DLA and AA each year.
The charity, however, believes the findings are only the tip of the iceberg as millions more is going unclaimed by those whose diagnosis is not terminal. By not claiming DLA or AA, people are also missing out on linked benefits such as Carers Allowance.
Following the Unclaimed Millions report in 2004, when £15m went unclaimed in Scotland, Macmillan took action to set up financial advice services across the UK.
The first one was piloted in Lanarkshire in the same year and since then Macmillan’s financial advice services have helped more than 20,000 people claim more than £70m in benefits in Scotland.
Helen Sinclair, a Macmillan benefits adviser at the City of Edinburgh Welfare Benefits Project, said: “Access to the right financial information is so important. We know that money worries are a huge source of stress for people and many don’t think that they might be entitled to benefits.
“I’d urge anyone affected by cancer to contact us as we can alleviate some of the stress by helping them to maximise their incomes.
“As well as identifying benefits they may be entitled to, we also fill out the complex application forms and, in some cases, will appeal benefits decisions.”
CASE STUDY: ‘Money is the last thing you think about’
Heather Mitchell, who has fought cancer for eight years, says most patients do not believe they are classed as disabled and do not think about claiming benefits.
The 50-year-old mother from Leith, in Edinburgh, who is undergoing chemotherapy after another tumour was found in her bowel and has been told she only has a few years left, says she now gets £70 in disability benefits that she never thought she would be entitled to after getting advice.
“I have my heating on non-stop because I am freezing all the time due to the drugs I am taking, so this money is a godsend,” she said.
Ms Mitchell, a Bank of Scotland teller, was first diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2002 and has been in and out of hospital ever since as new tumours have been found.
“I am very positive. I keep thinking because it’s a full tumour I have a few years and, after that, who knows what will happen.
“I am too strong willed to roll over and die.
“With all that to think about the last thing you want is to worry about finances.
“My district nurse put me in touch with a hospice which said I might be entitled to benefits.
“I didn’t think cancer patients were classed as disabled and I am sure other people who are diagnosed just don’t know this.
“I would never class myself as disabled, even though I find it difficult to walk. It’s unfortunate I have the illness which will shorten my life by a wee bit.
“There is also the issue that people have this stigma about benefits and they feel if you’re on benefits you are not working. It is a load of rubbish.”
She added: “It’s quite amazing there is all this money lying unclaimed.”