How can we make claiming benefits clearer, fairer and quicker for cancer patients?

Should a default referral policy be implemented for those affected by cancer to assist with claiming benefits?

This week on Click on Wales we’re featuring a series of practitioner responses to ideas to improve cancer care in Wales, crowdsourced between June and July 2015 through the IWA’s Let’s talk cancer project. Over 6 weeks patients and their carers posted their idea for how to make things better for those affected by cancer in Wales. In all we had around 100 ideas submitted. We’ve taken these ideas to a panel of practitioners who have given their responses to the 12 ideas we shortlisted using voting on the website. Here’s what they’ve said. We’ll be using the responses to help inform our final report which we’ll publish in September ahead of a conference on the 24th September at the Pierhead Building, Cardiff.

Claiming benefits could be clearer and fairer, suggested by Jayne Mason

Many people diagnosed with cancer do not realise what benefits and help is available for them, and they are also too ill to complete lengthy claim forms or to pursue any claims.

Practitioner response:

Tom Dyer, Cancer Support Advisor for Tenovus Cancer Care with specialist knowledge on welfare benefit law. He works on board the ManVan providing advice and support to men and their families throughout Wales:

A cancer diagnosis signifies a drastic change in circumstance. When other significant changes occur a financial check is carried out and budgets are balanced. Typically, changes occur while still working or looking for the next job opportunity so income is seldom a long term issue. Cancer does not afford that element of certainty that income will get better or that health will ever go back to 100%. Living with and after the psychological and physical impact of a cancer diagnosis is something that will not leave someone in a hurry, impacting one’s ability to return to the workplace at the same level.

Being in financial difficulty can be a great cause of anxiety and can hinder a smooth recovery as worrying about heating costs, or direct debits, never leaves you. Benefits will not replace a working person’s income but it can mitigate the loss and give some sense of stability while going through treatment.

Acknowledgement of this by healthcare professionals needs to increase. Healthcare professionals are excellent at treating ill health, and in this case, a cancer diagnosis. What they cannot do is go through 40 page applications and perform a ‘better off’ calculation to see what the situation would be should a patient claim Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Personal Independence Payment (PIP), and their partner reduces their hours of work to claim Carers Allowance and maybe be entitled to Council Tax Reduction and Housing Benefit, while still getting an Enhanced Disability Premium on their ESA. Or should the partner carry on working full time and not be available to care in the way they want to just to ensure bills are paid? This is without mentioning the big change being introduced in Universal Credit.

How can this be alleviated? If all cancer patients, regardless of diagnosis and background are provided with details of an independent welfare rights service they can have access to an income maximisation check straight away. Advisors should take a holistic approach and focus on the household to signpost and refer to community institutions that may be able to help and liaise with social services also to complete the care package; treatment is only one part of the puzzle.

If a patient makes contact prior to treatment an advisor can talk through many possibilities that may arise depending on circumstances, such as type of treatment, prognosis and their own recovery. Even if there is no current entitlement an advisor can explain where there is no entitlement and can provide a breakdown as to what is required so that the patient and their family can make their own informed decision as to how to manage their finances. Some patients will not be entitled to any additional income, but at least they will know for certain. They may however benefit from a Blue Badge, a home assessment from Occupational Health, or they may have been an active carer and now require respite services while they undergo their own treatment.

One simple default referral from a healthcare professional for all patients to an independent service could transform a patient’s treatment experience and provide financial certainty and dispel myths and overcome barriers to claiming. Ideally, an advice service would also include debt, employment and housing advice also.

A default referral policy, where all patients are provided with independent advisor details in their consultant or nurse packs, avoids the risk of anyone falling through the net and being left to panic about their health and wellbeing: physical; emotional; and financial wellbeing. A patient presenting at clinic may look well in themselves and be well dressed; this does not mean that they are not already only living on their State Pension and missing out on Pension Credit for example. Appearance means very little financially and one should not assume that because the patient is presenting well that their partner is also well that there is not a statutory or non-statutory instrument that they could be utilising.

A common theme I have seen on board the ManVan is that of the ‘good patient’; a patient that does not want to annoy or delay their consultant more than they have to so will answer that everything is ‘fine’ as they just want to get on with their treatment. This is not the fault of the consultant but human nature. A default referral policy would ensure that cancer patients are assessed to check for no financial loss through being out of work, heating the house for longer, using more water for certain conditions, changing clothes or requiring specialised clothing, and particularly pertinent to those in rural Wales, travel expenses.

I consider that a welfare law referral should be an integral part of the treatment pathway.

What are your views on this idea? How could cancer patients be made better aware of the benefits available to them? We want to hear what you think in the comment section below.

2 thoughts on “How can we make claiming benefits clearer, fairer and quicker for cancer patients?

  1. Poverty is a cancer under any definition, has an immense debilitating effect on individual concerned and no stone should be left unturned to eliminate it if we perceive ourselves to be a caring nation.

    Don’t believe in singling out any group and access to meaningful help through simple efficient and transparent policies should be available to all.

    With this said we do have unbelievable and often mindless red tape imposed by the system and in many cases aggravated by insensitive and often uncaring little bureaucrats processing applications.

    I often help people with financial difficulties by handling complex cases ranging from debts to legal assistance where appropriate as an unpaid advocate and see first hand the despair and hurt in those with financial difficulties.

    Don’t want to make this a political issue but not impressed with the George Osborne and his last Budget. People in poverty should be a priority for any Government and we need a welfare system that gives people unable to work dignity through meaningful benefits.

    Government’s rhetoric such as “We are the party of working people, offering you security at every stage of your life” is an absurd statement as no Government can provide full employment hence the need for a much fairer welfare system paid for by those who are lucky to have well paid jobs.

  2. The Maggie’s Centre has a benefits advisor available to give professional advice to anyone affected by cancer. Based in the grounds of Singleton Hospital, no appointment needed. The drop in benefits service is accessible at the centre Tues- Friday 10-1pm or alternatively on line to those who may wish to access advice from home at https://community.maggiescentres.org/

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