Last year Maggie’s helped people across the UK access more than £26 million in unclaimed benefits.
As a Maggie’s benefits advisor, dividing my time between our cancer support centres in Edinburgh and Fife, it is a figure which makes me both incredibly proud and sad.
Proud that I am part of an organisation that recognises how important it is to help people with their financial situation when they have cancer or are caring for somebody with cancer. We know that living with cancer can have a real impact on finances, whether that be through loss of income, or facing increased costs such as heating, food and travel to and from the many hospital appointments a cancer diagnosis brings.
Yet we also understand that people aren’t able to focus on their treatment or taking proper care of themselves until they can stop worrying about paying the mortgage or putting food on the table.
We are also aware of what a minefield claiming benefits can be, especially if you have never had to deal with them before and, perhaps even more so, when you are experiencing the trauma of a cancer diagnosis.
I am sad because without Maggie’s, those people may never have found the financial support that is so crucial. Yet it is not uncommon for people with cancer, or someone who helps look after them, not to claim for a variety of complex reasons, one of the main being the shock of a diagnosis. When you are first diagnosed with cancer, it can feel as if your whole world is falling apart and there is so much information that needs to be shared and absorbed.
Many going through the trauma of a cancer diagnosis and treatment aren’t properly equipped, both mentally and physically, to claim the financial support they may be entitled to, so often they just don’t, due to a lack of knowledge and because they have too much else to worry about. Some people can even be in denial that they have cancer and the long term effect this may have on their life. To claim benefits would be an acknowledgement of the seriousness of the situation.
Other reasons people don’t claim include the need to put a positive front on, telling everyone, including yourself, that you are fine or the fear of being asked difficult questions. Sadly, there is also still a stigma around the claiming of benefits which can deter people from claiming what they are due no matter how they are struggling.
My job though is to help people navigate the complicated and ever-changing system of applying for benefits, can help those who are feeling too ill to process and complete the necessary forms when claiming benefits, and can also help access any additional support people with cancer might be eligible for. It is an incredibly rewarding role and I never tire of seeing how people relax once they know they can stop worrying about money.
Anne Foster is benefits advisor, Maggie’s Edinburgh and Fife (www.maggiescentres.org)