Cost of living crisis forces UK cancer patients to cut back on food and heating

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Hundreds of thousands of cancer patients are putting their lives at risk by cutting back on meals, heating and other essentials as a result of the cost of living crisis, a charity has said.

Macmillan Cancer Support said it was “hugely concerning” that large numbers of people living with the disease were having to resort to drastic cost-cutting measures to make ends meet.

Some recovering from chemotherapy or radiotherapy are sleeping in cold bedrooms to try to keep energy bills down, while others are washing their clothes and bedding less frequently or skipping meals. The development is alarming because nutrition, warmth and hygiene are vital to beating cancer, experts say.

About one in four people (24%) with cancer in the UK – almost 750,000 people – say they “can’t afford life at the moment”, according to research conducted by Macmillan.

Its survey of 2,000 people also found that since December, nearly one in four (24%) have been buying less food or making fewer hot meals to try to cope with the soaring cost of living.

In addition, with energy bills spiralling, 32% of people with cancer – 1 million – have resorted to wearing coats or dressing gowns indoors more to try to stay warm without putting the heating on. One in six (16%) have begun washing their clothes or bedding less – or not at all – to try to keep costs down.

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Lara Burwell, 30, who was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2019, said facing cancer and the spiralling cost of living at the same time was “the worst possible combination”. The former nursery manager from Somerset said: “No matter what cuts we make to save money, we straight up can’t afford life any more.

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“I have overwhelming anxiety as all the money worries add up, and on top of this I am so fearful about how our standard of living will affect my cancer recovery. We’ve completely cut out heating, which is horrible as my treatment means I get really cold, but even with that saving I’m not sure we can afford the rent any more.”

Dr Anthony Cunliffe, Macmillan’s national clinical adviser for primary care, said: “At a time when people living with cancer need their health to be their priority, it’s devastating to hear the toll the cost of living crisis is taking on the wellbeing of so many people.

“Nutrition, warmth and hygiene are all vital in keeping people with cancer well enough for treatment and aiding their recovery, and to hear that people are being forced to deprive themselves of these essentials is hugely concerning.”

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Cunliffe urged cancer patients with concerns or questions about the impact of the cost of living crisis on their health or wellbeing to call Macmillan’s telephone support line. The charity has seen a high level of demand for its financial support services over recent months, with calls about energy bills jumping by 87% compared with a year earlier.

Christopher Jones, the energy team leader on the support line at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “Every day we are hearing from more and more people living with cancer who are feeling the enormous pressure of the rising cost of living, on top of the extra costs a diagnosis can already bring. We used to hear about people choosing between eating and heating, but now we are hearing from people who can’t afford either.”

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