07:15am Sunday 24 September 2017

Welfare rights service improves the lives of cancer patients

Researchers who are part of Fuse (The Centre for Translational Research in Public Health) found that many cancer patients and their families experience financial strain following their cancer diagnosis and treatment. However, a welfare rights advice service resulted in additional financial benefits for almost every client and this was shown to increase their ability to cope with cancer.

Patients involved in the study described how the financial help improved their general wellbeing as it eased their financial worries, reducing their stress and anxiety and increasing their independence. They described to researchers how this helped increase their ability to cope with cancer.

The service, initially funded by Macmillan Cancer Support and offered by Durham County Council, allowed patients to receive expert assistance from professional welfare advisers lessening the impact of lost earnings and helping people afford the additional costs associated with cancer.  Psychological stress associated with money worries was reduced and patients were able to concentrate on themselves and their families.  The overall impact was to increase their ability to cope with cancer. 

Dr Suzanne Moffatt, Senior Lecturer at Newcastle University said: “This study demonstrates the huge benefits that welfare rights advice can have for people affected by cancer, particularly the positive psychological and social impact, which helps patients to cope with the illness.

The findings provide solid evidence to support the commissioning of welfare rights services for people affected by cancer and the evidence will be widely used by policy makers and practitioners.”

Macmillan Cancer Support estimate that nine out of ten UK cancer patients’ households experience loss of income as a direct result of cancer, which is compounded by additional costs associated with cancer such as travel and parking costs or special dietary needs. 

Another key finding in the research which was funded by Macmillan Cancer Support, was that health professionals became more aware of benefits that their patients could access and over time became more likely to advise their patients to seek this help or refer them to the service.

Professor Martin White, Professor of Public Health at Newcastle University and Director of Fuse said: “A huge number cancer patients and their families are not getting access to their benefit entitlements, and our study demonstrates that welfare rights advice services, working in partnership with cancer care services, can quickly overcome this problem.”

In the study, conducted over a 31-month period, a total of 1,891 cancer patients or carers were given advice and a 96% success rate was achieved from 2,265 claims.  Thirty-four different types of benefits or grants were obtained, most frequently Disability Living Allowance, Attendance Allowance and Macmillan Grants.  For those below state pension age, the average value of benefits obtained was £115 per week and for those over state pension age the average weekly amount was £70.  Between 2010 and 2011, the County Council’s Macmillan Welfare Rights service raised £3.75 million in additional social security benefits and Macmillan grants for people affected by cancer. 

Professor White added, “We have identified an effective practice model that successfully increases resources for cancer patients.  If such services were fully resourced, they could be easily implemented nationally.  This study provides evidence to support the commissioning of welfare rights advice services for cancer patients in the future.” 

View the report: “It’s a hard enough worry cancer itself, without having to worry about money as well”: The impact of a dedicated welfare rights advice service for people affected by cancer


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