The physical and mental health of tens of thousands of cancer patients in England and Wales is deteriorating because they are having to wait months for financial support from the government, a charity has warned.
Macmillan Cancer Support said many are waiting as long as five months to receive their personal independence payment (PIP), which is paid to people with long-term physical and mental health conditions or disability, and who have difficulty doing certain everyday tasks or getting around.
Health leaders said the “unacceptable” situation had now become critical, with thousands of cancer patients increasingly desperate for help.
Research for the charity found that among people with cancer who receive PIP, more than one in four (29%) have reported a deterioration in physical or mental health while they wait to receive it. This rises to almost half (46%) among those who wait more than 11 weeks to receive their first payment.
Some have had to borrow money or use savings to cover their costs, while others are now in debt.
PIP is available even if people are working, have savings or are getting most other benefits. It is worth varying amounts, but can be worth up to £92.40 a week for help with daily living and up to £64.50 a week for mobility.
Every week a cancer patient’s claim is delayed, they can miss out on up to £156.90. This means losing out on almost £3,000 over the current 18-week average wait.
Macmillan is launching a “Pay PIP Now” campaign, saying it is hearing from patients going into debt, skipping meals and cancelling medical appointments due to travel costs, all because of delays to PIP. It wants ministers to cut the average wait times for PIP from 18 weeks at the moment to 12.
Research suggests most people with cancer suffer a financial impact from their diagnosis, including from being unable to work while having treatment, increased heating bills to stay warm and the cost of attending appointments.
So far this year, Macmillan’s support line has answered more than 150,000 queries from people in need, including over 34,000 calls regarding benefits, the charity said.
This is an increase of more than 4,500 calls (15%) compared with the same time last year, it added.
Ciarán Norris, head of campaigns and public affairs at Macmillan, said: “The UK government must take immediate action to reduce PIP waiting times in England and Wales.
“It’s unacceptable that people living with cancer are left waiting months on end to receive the financial support they desperately need.
“We are now in a critical situation, which needs bold action to match the scale of the challenge people are facing.
“Long waiting times for a benefit which makes the lives of many people living with cancer easier should not be normalised. We’re calling for the government to go further and faster to reduce PIP waiting times to 12 weeks.
“We want to see an emergency plan for tackling waiting times, with clear expectations for timescales and delivery.”
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: “We understand how difficult and life-altering a cancer diagnosis can be which is why we’re committed to getting people the support they’re entitled to as quickly as possible, and we will backdate awards to ensure no one misses out.
“We support millions of people each year and continue to improve our PIP service by boosting resources and opening up assessments by phone and video, with process times now down by eight weeks on last year.”
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