‘Cancer slashed my income by £1,300 a month – patients shouldn’t be penalised’

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Mphango had just started a new job when she was diagnosed (Image: Humphrey Nemar)

Mphango Simwaka was bursting with excitement when she moved to London and started a new job as an associate consultant in late 2022.

But a shock cancer diagnosis derailed the 25-year-old’s plans. Within weeks, her monthly income plummeted from £1,700 to £464.

Mphango is now one of an estimated 250,000 workers with cancer in the UK who struggle to cover essential bills like rent and heating, a report reveals.

Led by Young Lives vs Cancer and backed by 12 other cancer charities and organisations, it calls for an increase in statutory sick pay (SSP) in line with a worker’s wages up to the living wage.

Mphango was diagnosed after acute myeloid leukaemia caused her left eye to bulge out of the socket. She underwent 10 days of radiotherapy, followed by four months of high dose chemotherapy.

READ MORE: Doctor warns of five red flag symptoms of deadly ‘silent’ cancer to spot

Mphango in hospital

Mphango underwent radiotherapy and chemotherapy to treat the disease (Image: Mphango Simwaka)

The young patient was made redundant nine months after her diagnosis and has been advised not to return to work for at least a year while she recovers from treatment.

She also experience problems accessing Universal Credit she was entitled to and had to rely on friends and family to help cover her rent and expenses.

Mphango, who is now on maintenance treatment, called for an even more generous SSP system. She said: “A more equitable sick pay system would offer payments equivalent to an individual’s pre-diagnosis wage.

“It’s unfair to penalise someone financially for falling ill; after all, a diagnosis is beyond their control.

“Such a system would alleviate financial stress during an already challenging time, allowing individuals to focus on their recovery without the added burden of financial instability.”

Mphango Simwaka

Mphango is calling for a more generous statutory sick pay system (Image: Humphrey Nemar)

Statutory sick pay is currently £116.75 per week, paid from the fourth day of illness.

The report warned this was an effective income replacement rate of just 17 percent for a worker on the average salary – one of the least generous rates in OECD nations.

Analysis by the Centre for Research in Social Policy at Loughborough University looked at a scenario involving a middle income couple each earning the UK median salary of £34,693.

If one of them became ill, their income would fall well below the minimum standard required to live a dignified life, it found.

The report also considered the additional costs related to cancer, including hospital parking, travel to treatment, plus higher heating and food bills.

A worker on the median salary who takes six months off for cancer treatment stands to lose £10,093 income, whilst facing £4,200 in extra costs.

Charities and organisations including Macmillan Cancer Support, Anthony Nolan, Leukaemia Care, Action Kidney Cancer and National Voices have written to the Prime Minister and Keir Starmer, asking them to commit to reform including an uplift of SSP.

They called for improvements to SSP for all workers – including those with cancer and other health conditions – including payments from the first day of sickness and abolition of the earnings threshold.

Henny Braund, chief executive of UK stem cell charity Anthony Nolan, said: “No one should have to worry about making ends meet after a cancer diagnosis, but the reality is patients and families are struggling to pay for food, heating and travel to hospital.

“The ‘safety net’ of sick pay and other support is failing too many people and needs urgent reform.”

Rachel Kirby-Rider, chief executive at Young Lives vs Cancer, said many young people have to stop work immediately to get treatment, and then face a lengthy recovery.

She added: “Our research shows that, whilst their usual income may stop, bills like travel to hospital, food, and heating their homes increase costs by £700 a month on average.

“We believe all young people with cancer should have access to a safe sick pay system, so they can recover and return to employment if they want and if it’s right for them.”

A DWP spokesperson 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 percent 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.”

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