BY TIM MCNULTY and TOBY PORTER
A cancer patient says she will be made so much poorer by a new benefit that she will not be able to afford even to “catch a cold” this winter – because it would throw her into a cash crisis.
Downham mum-of-two Amanda Mahoney, 47, was forced to give up work because of the disease and is already struggling to pay for essentials.
But she would lose £400 a month under the government’s controversial new Universal Credit (UC) system.
She is one of an estimated 3,600 Londoners with cancer who next year will be moved on to UC, under which there is a minimum of five weeks’ gap before the first payment, so they have to live on savings – if they have any.
There is no exemption for those who are sick – or those who are terminally ill.
She said: “By my own calculations I will be £400 worse off a month on Universal Credit. I’m already struggling to pay for basics such as heating – I can’t afford to catch a cold because I can’t afford to put the heat on.
I’m forced to rely on food bank vouchers or help from my 83-year-old father just to buy basics, so losing a further £400 is just unthinkable.
“I don’t feel useful or productive when I’m not working. But my cancer means I am yet again undergoing chemotherapy treatment and I am just not well enough to return to a full-time job.
“I am so fearful of being moved to UC. It feels punitive, like we are being punished. But my cancer is not of my making or my choosing.
“I understand the government needs to make savings, but the reality is that many people, including cancer patients, will be significantly worse off under UC.
“Some cancer patients will be dead before they ever receive their payments. “I worry that I will pick up an infection if I am forced to attend the Job Centre. I am often unwell – I worry about being too ill to make my appointments and then being sanctioned.
This isn’t living.”
People claiming Employment Support Allowance under the previous welfare system, including those with a terminal illness, could expect to have their benefits paid as quickly as possible after they were processed.
Research by cancer charity Macmillan shows the side effects of cancer and its treatment can affect someone’s ability to work.
Cancer can cost an average of £570 a month for most patients, in lost income and extra outgoings, such as rising household bills because of being at home more.
Macmillan Cancer Support’s chief executive Lynda Thomas said: “People with cancer should be able to focus their energy on their health, not worrying about how to make ends meet when they are too unwell to work.
“It is unacceptable to force patients to risk infection at Job Centres, log onto computers from hospital and wait more than a month for vital financial support, even at the end of their lives.
“The system is failing people with cancer and we urge the Government to fix this benefit, before 10s of thousands more vulnerable people are put at risk of hardship.”
The Government does offer Advance Payments to people who struggle to manage without income while they are waiting for UC, but these loans are paid back using future UC payments, which means people lose out further down the line.
National Audit Office (NAO) figures from 2017 show more than a quarter of those diagnosed have no savings to fall back on.
The NAO also found around two in three people with health conditions or disabilities did not receive their first UC payment on time.
Department for Work and Pensions data shows less than half of people with a long-term health condition are able to complete their Universal Credit claim in one attempt.
Macmillan received more than 215 calls about UC issues last month alone.
Anyone in need of welfare advice can call Macmillan’s free support line on 0808 808 00 00 or visit www.macmillan.org.uk