UK set to cut social benefits, even for cancer patients



“Every time I went to the hospital for treatment, I felt like I was playing Russian roulette with my life,” says Judith Neptial. “I know I’m getting treatment and I know it saves my life, but I’m terrified of taking the bus to get it. Neptial, 49, has end-stage biliary cancer and was forced to quit her job as a psychotherapist while undergoing treatment. Riding the bus seems dangerous for someone like her during a pandemic, with her immune system weakened by cancer, but it’s the only mode of transportation she could normally afford for the 2-hour, 24-mile ride. Romford outside East London edge in Hammersmith in West London.

In 2020, she was able to take taxis to the hospital. Universal credit – the blanket social benefit that Neptial, like millions of Britons, rely on to fend for themselves – has been increased by £ 20 a week due to the pandemic, so she can afford it. In March 2020, as thousands more asked for help after losing their jobs in the UK’s first national COVID-19 lockdown, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the increase to support “more than four million of our most vulnerable households “.

But from tomorrow, those on universal credit like Neptial risk losing that £ 20 a week of their income (up to £ 1,040 a year) as the government seeks toput people to work– as Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said – now that the most disruptive phase of the pandemic is over.

This ignores the fact that some 1.6 million universal credits around 6 million users cannot work because they are disabled or are currently too ill. For the thousands of people living with cancer and their families who are among that number, this is a huge blow.

“No one gets up in the morning and chooses to have cancer,” says Neptial. “I think you have to recognize that any help you get to deal with this is not a luxury benefit. It’s not like winning the lottery – you need that money to live.

The impact of this £ 20 reduction is only compounded by the problems already present in the system. Infamous for arduous five week waiting periods for support, excessive bureaucracy and the fact that covered only 14% of average earnings before the hike, which makes it one of the least generous plans in Europe, Crédit Universel was far from perfect from the start.

And it comes at a time when that £ 20 a week is more vital than ever. With an increase in national insurance costing many households hundreds of euros per year, energy bills are set to rise by £ 139 per year for the average household and the forecast of an upcoming rise in inflation the experts warned that the UK is in the midst of a cost of living crisis.

For the many cancer patients who depend on universal credit, the loss of some income will only add to the hardships already made worse by the pandemic. Leading cancer charity Macmillan estimates that there are now 50,000 people missing a cancer diagnosis due to pandemic delays, and that there is now a 20-month backlog. Many people with cancer who are immunocompromised have been protected for over a year, under the constant threat of dying from the pandemic, but many are now wondering how they will survive financially after the reduction in universal credit.

Professor Richard Sullivan, director of the Institute of Cancer Policy at King’s College London, said this cut in universal credit would not only drive more people living with cancer into poverty, but leave more people dead. “It has been definitively proven that if you put more people into destitution, cancer mortality increases and this has an impact on the economic losses for society. Period, ”he says.

It has now been three years since Neptial had only six months to live for the first time. “When I was first diagnosed, death was not an option,” she says. She had to survive as a single parent for her daughter. During this time, she helped found a support group for black people living with cancer like herself called From Me To You. “A lot of the members of my group who are currently living with cancer are getting benefits so that has a direct impact on them,” she says.

The impact of the next reduction in universal credit will be devastating for the countless cancer patients who depend on it. Studies of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Foundation Resolution found that the reduction could push between 500,000 and 1.2 million people into poverty. The Trussell Trust estimated that the movement could increase food bank use among 20 percent UA seekers. Among these figures, there are about 60,000 cancer patients. according to Macmillan. Over 100,000 people with cancer in the UK are already struggling to afford basic necessities amid the pandemic, and the reduction in universal credit could risk not only worsening their economic hardship, but actually adding countless people to that number.

“Many people living with cancer have a hard time coping because they are just too sick to work or have to pay much higher bills or travel while undergoing treatment,” says Eve. Byrne, Head of Campaigns and Public Affairs at Macmillan. “Too often our helpline gets calls from people telling us they don’t know how they are going to pay for the extra heat or electricity they need, or even put food on the table. This makes the reduction in this support of £ 20 per week all the more devastating. “

This adds to an already distressing situation facing cancer patients. It took doctors five weeks to realize that migraines from Sarah Whiteman’s husband, Michael, could be a symptom of cancer. In March of last year, Michael was finally diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive type of brain cancer. Between the treatment and their childcare commitments – they have four children aged 5-18 – neither Sarah, 38, nor Michael, 41, could work, so the Cambridgeshire family were forced to rely on Universal Credit. Their first request was rejected, and it was only after Macmillan’s outside intervention that they were finally accepted. “It’s been a roller coaster with the rewards of things as well as the fight against a disease… it’s really hard to go through,” says Sarah. “It was horrible. We have four small children, so he being the main breadwinner and suddenly getting poor, I was worried about how we were going to manage.

The extra £ 20 a week they get on the Universal Credit helped buy new clothes after her husband lost a huge amount of weight from the treatments, to pay to keep the heat on more often to keep Michael at warm, to buy enough food for when her appetite allows her to eat well and to cover transportation for her regular visits to the hospital. Without it, Sarah says she worries about the sacrifices they might have to make.

“It’s very stressful and I have to keep smiling for my four kids, but deep down I’m like ‘how do I get out of this?’ I have a sick husband, money worries, I make sure my kids are taken care of and my husband is taken care of… and who is there for me when I have to deal with all of this too?

“My husband is still a human being and he fights, so what little money you take away from him will make all the difference,” she says.

Macmillan study for charity found 70 percent of people living with cancer and struggling with the basic cost of living while Covid has experienced stress, anxiety or depression.

When Ahmed was diagnosed with stage 4 brain and lung cancer, his wife Kashifa and two children traveled to the UK from Pakistan so he could spend more time with them in his final months. . “He needed help with everything and I couldn’t work too because in this state he needed me 24 hours a day,” said Kashifa – who only gave his first name to avoid a backlash. his family in Pakistan for speaking in public.

Ahmed’s first application for universal credit was turned down with little or no explanation, leaving the family destitute. “I actually remember we were in the hospital one day… we didn’t have enough money to hire a cab, we didn’t even have four or five pounds,” Kashifa says. “It was so horrible that day. My husband was crying and I was crying too. In the end, the hospital staff paid for their return taxi. Even after an outside intervention from Maggie’s, another cancer charity, Ahmed and his family finally got his application for universal credit, it was never enough money to survive because they were staying in the house of the brother of Kashifa.

“At least for their last days, it should be relaxing so that they don’t have to worry about their expenses and can actually spend their last few days,” says Kashifa. “Although my husband was always more concerned with what would happen to his children than to himself.” Ahmed passed away in the early months of 2020. Now Kashifa says that having left her parent’s home, despite working part-time, she is struggling to support her children through universal credit, even before the birth. next reduction of £ 20 per week. “It will be devastating… I pay the rent and the bills and even now it’s not enough actually,” she says. “The children go to school and they have so many needs. I also work, but I already have to borrow money on the last fortnight of the month to pay for things… And even if I earn more, I get less Universal Credit.

The people and families living with cancer that VICE World News spoke with have all felt completely and utterly left behind by the government, utterly ignored by a system that seems to have even forgotten that they exist. When universal credit is reduced to “put people to work“As the Prime Minister says, he completely ignores people with cancer who, faced with exhausting rounds of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, find the job almost impossible.

“When you’re not in control of your own body, and you can’t even control the choices you can make because of your finances, you feel totally irrelevant. Do you even count? said Neptial. “If you’re not even worth a £ 20 pay raise, then what does that mean?” “


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