The Financial Cost of Cancer

Lynda Thomas, chief executive at Macmillan Cancer Support, shares her thoughts on the financial impact of cancer and why the charity is launching a guide for the banking industry to help their most vulnerable customers.

The cost of cancer

Cancer is an expensive disease. Four in five (83%) patients are hit with an average cost of £570 a month as a result of their illness, the same as the average mortgage.

This is due to having to take time off work for medical appointments or being unable to work due to treatment. Other costs incurred can include a change in dietary or clothing requirements. The impact of these costs is so significant that people calling the Macmillan Support Line are 25 times more likely to seek help on financial issues than death or dying.

This is why Macmillan delivers a wide of range of specialist information and service support for people affected by cancer, including grants, a UK wide network of benefits advisers and a team of specialists delivering our Financial Guidance Service helpline.

However, we know that we cannot meet the growing need alone. That’s why we’ve published a new guide ‘How we can help’ to give banks a step-by-step guide to implementing improvements to provide support to vulnerable customers.

At least one in four people living with cancer – over 500,000 in the UK – experience a wide range of long-term debilitating health conditions, caused by their cancer. This represents a major challenge across health and social care, and also means huge numbers of people will be facing the harsh financial impact of cancer.

The role of the financial sector

 In 2014 Macmillan’s Counting on Your Support report highlighted the challenges people affected by cancer are often experiencing in accessing the right support from their banks. The report found that 98% of cancer patients do not contact their bank or building society when faced with financial difficulty for fear of not getting any help or worse, that their diagnosis will have a negative impact on their financial situation. Of those who did make contact over a third (36%) said their bank was not able to offer them support.

The report also set out nine recommendations to the banking industry to ease the financial burden of cancer.

Nationwide’s Specialist Support Service

Using our recommendations as a starting point, last year Macmillan and Nationwide worked together to set up a first of its kind Specialist Support Service for customers affected by cancer. Six Specialist Support Managers received bespoke training on Nationwide’s products and services and from Macmillan on cancer awareness and how to communicate to people affected by cancer. This enabled Nationwide to provide tailored one-to-one support for customers affected by cancer to help them make informed decisions about their finances from immediate requests for support to the longer-term management of financial difficulties – from current accounts to mortgages.

Since April, over 650 people have contacted the service for support, of which 186 were referred on to Macmillan’s FinancialGuidance Service for further help, receiving £125,000 in benefits and grants as a result, which they wouldn’t have previously known about. Customer feedback has been extremely positive, and the service has shown to greatly improve vulnerable people’s financial situations, their ability to manage their money and increased their overall wellbeing

Due to its success Nationwide is now extending the service to support a range of conditions, including heart disease, stroke and motor neurone disease.


What other banks can do to help

While we recognise there is little that banking providers can do to specifically reduce the cost of cancer itself, the sector can play a significant role in helping people manage their finances following a cancer diagnosis. By providing specialist support the banking sector is in an unrivalled position to help reduce the long-term financial impact of a diagnosis and help people before they experience financial difficulty.

Nationwide’s service is a proven model for improving experience and outcomes for vulnerable people. It also demonstrates that cancer is a great pathfinder for other vulnerabilities when it comes to helping banks implement these services.

This is why our ‘How we can help’ guide is so important. It outlines the principles that we have worked to, and the learning we have gathered from our work with Nationwide.

Macmillan is now looking to work with organisations across the financial sector to share its expertise and provide tailored support to help them improve services for people affected by cancer to ensure no one faces the financial impact of cancer alone and pave the way for the industry to help their most vulnerable customers

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