Cancer diagnosis adds £6,500 a year to employee living costs, report finds

Research shows more than half of workers with the condition have been forced to change their employment, as commentators recommend amending sickness policies

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People diagnosed with cancer are coming under increasing financial pressure, with seven in 10 now facing unexpected costs that average £6,500 a year, forcing more than half to change their employment, research has found.

The Hidden Cost of Cancer report, commissioned by Zurich in August 2022, surveyed 300 UK adults who were either living with, diagnosed with, or had received the all clear from cancer in the last two years. It found that four in five (78 per cent) faced unexpected costs and increasing outgoings at an average of £541 per month. 

In addition to the financial strain for people affected by the condition and their families, more than half (58 per cent) had been forced to change their employment because of the diagnosis, with common changes including a reduction in working hours (32 per cent) and pausing work altogether (26 per cent).

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Hannah Copeland, HR business partner at WorkNest, pointed out that, under the Equality Act 2010, people with cancer were automatically classed as disabled and were therefore protected from being treated less favourably than other workers.

“As part of their duty of care towards staff, employers are obliged to take reasonable steps to ensure the wellbeing of workers. This may mean making reasonable adjustments to make it easier for people who are classed as disabled to remain in work,” she said.

“Employees with cancer may have higher levels of sickness absence, so allowing employees to take time off without penalties incurred through the company sickness policy could be considered as an appropriate adjustment.” 

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At a time when household bills continue to spiral, those surveyed cited the price of petrol needed to travel to appointments as the leading hidden cost, as the price of fuel had increased by 48 per cent in two years. This was followed by higher food bills to accommodate changes in diet, buying new clothes because of a change in size, increased energy use to keep warm and hospital parking.

As a result, 39 per cent of people diagnosed with cancer reported being forced to draw on savings to cover costs, while a third (34 per cent) said they were ‘just about managing’ to pay essential bills.

Proposing ways for organisations to support staff diagnosed with cancer, Dr Bernard Yew, medical director of PAM OH Solutions, said: “While employers can consider adding discretionary sick pay or income protection, the most important thing they can do is support the employees to stay in work, as this will reduce income loss and the risk of them falling out of work or having to change jobs.”

Ruth Wilkinson, head of policy at the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health, said attention to employee’s individual needs was crucial, and support from employers “may be required at different stages – for example, at diagnosis, through treatment and then recovery – and may vary, with risk assessments needing to be reviewed”.

“It’s all a question of employers staying in regular contact with those undergoing or completing treatment to establish what interventions might be necessary,” Wilkinson said, adding that “this process will be greatly helped if the employer is understanding, flexible and supportive, taking care to put in place work and return to work programmes that are tailored to each person and situation”.