Cancer patients 'without sufficient income to cover essential bills'

The Safe Sick Pay campaign, backed by cancer and health charities, has written to Rishi Sunak
The Safe Sick Pay campaign, backed by cancer and health charities, has written to Rishi Sunak -Credit:PA

Around a quarter of a million UK workers living with cancer are estimated to be struggling with covering essential costs due to inadequate statutory sick pay, charities and campaigners have said.

The Safe Sick Pay campaign, backed by cancer and health charities, has written to Rishi Sunak as well as Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer demanding change.

The group said Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) must rise to be in line with a worker's wages up to the Living Wage, in order to properly support cancer patients to "recover and return to work safely".

The letter comes the week after the Prime Minister made a major speech on proposed welfare reforms, vowing to end the "sick note culture", although he faced criticism for his "hostile rhetoric".

In March, MPs called for an increase in SSP through a Work and Pensions Committee report which said the payment currently does not offer adequate financial support for workers most in need.

The Safe Sick Pay campaign said that, based on data from Macmillan on the working age cancer population, it estimated that some 249,075 workers living with cancer have been left without sufficient income to cover essential bills like rent and heating.

SSP is currently set at £116.75 a week for up to 28 weeks and covers the days someone is off when they would normally have worked, except for the first three.

A letter from the campaigners, signed by various organisations including Macmillan Cancer Support, Brain Tumour research and the Centre for Progressive Change which runs the Safe Sick Pay campaign, has been sent to the Liberal Democrat and SNP Westminster leaders as well as Mr Sunak and Sir Keir.

Campaigners said they were raising the issue "of the UK's Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) arrangements and their inadequacy in supporting working-age people with cancer diagnoses to recover and return to work safely".

The letter called for a commitment from political parties to pledge to increase SSP, make it payable from the first day of sickness, abolish the earnings threshold so that part-time workers who are currently ineligible can receive some sick pay entitlement, and ensure that benefits such as Pip (personal independence payment) and UC (Universal Credit) are made available as soon as possible at the point of need.

It stated: "Sick pay reform combined with faster acting support from the benefits system would reduce the number of people faced with financial hardship during their treatment and aftercare, including those living with cancer."

It said the benefit would go beyond cancer patients, providing financial security "that ensures many people with other types of long term conditions aside from cancer, can safely and securely return to work".

Campaigners said research by the Centre for Research in Social Policy at Loughborough University calculated that people on SSP while they get cancer treatment can suffer an income loss of tens of thousands of pounds in the worst case scenarios.

They said additional costs such as bills from hospital parking, travel for treatment, increased heating and food can add to this, with combined income loss and cost impact ranging between £5,000 to £28,000.

Campaigners said previous analysis by WPI Economics suggested reforms could end up boosting the economy in the form of increased productivity, fewer periods of prolonged absence due to inadequate rest exacerbating existing conditions and better public health outcomes.

Amanda Walters, director of the Safe Sick Pay campaign, said: "Government reforms to ensure employers pay a higher rate of sick pay from day one wouldn't just be an act of compassion, it is good economic sense."

Liberal Democrat MP Wendy Chamberlain said SSP is "desperately in need of reform" and that people facing cancer should not also have to deal with "additional burdens from financial hardship".

She added: "Our goal must be help patients return to full health and back to their day-to-day lives as fast as possible. That means reducing waiting lists, providing adequate statutory sick pay, and ensuring benefits are available for those who need them."

A spokesperson for the Department of Work and Pensions said: "We understand how difficult and life-altering a cancer diagnosis can be. That's why there's a wide financial safety net to support those who are too ill to work, including through statutory sick pay, Universal Credit and Pip which were all increased by 6.7% this month."

"Employers should make reasonable adjustments to support employees to manage their health conditions and our new occupational health taskforce will provide guidance for businesses to offer the best possible health support to their staff."