Cancer patients put at risk by Universal Credit, says charity

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Thousands of cancer patients in Scotland will be put at risk if they are forced to move over to Universal Credit, according to a charity.

A report published by Macmillan Cancer Support suggests that an estimated 2,636 people in Scotland with the disease are set to be moved over to the system.

The findings highlight concerns ahead of the roll-out, scheduled for early 2019 following several delays.

The system – which will merge six benefits into one payment – was supposed to be up and running by April 2017, but is now not expected to be fully operational until December 2023.

Macmillan say that current Universal Credit rules mean that cancer patients face a five-week wait before they receive any money at all.

The duration applies to those with a terminal diagnosis, with a fast track process for people with less than six months to live removed.

It means people at the end of their lives face a longer wait for vital financial support.

Benefits adviser Elaine Donnelly, in Inverness, said: “I never thought we’d have to give out food bank vouchers to people with cancer. Some days the staff are in tears, struggling to believe what the system is doing to people who are very ill.

“We’ve had people die before they got their benefits. The system just doesn’t work.”

The report by Macmillan suggests that four in five Scottish cancer patients are hit with an average cost of £420 a month due to lost income and extra outgoings, such as increased household bills due to feeling the cold more.

The charity has called on the UK Government to fix the existing issues with the system, including challenges of applying for those who are undergoing treatment.

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 tens of thousands more vulnerable people are put at risk of hardship.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “It is simply not true that the fast track process for terminally ill claimants has been removed under Universal Credit.

“We’re determined to ensure that people living with terminal illnesses get the support they need through this difficult time and this continues to include fast tracking Universal Credit claims for claimants with a life expectancy of less than six months.

“These claimants will also be awarded an additional amount of Universal Credit from the first day of their claim.”

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