Witten by Alison Dunn

On the face of it receiving a diagnosis that your partner or one of your children has cancer puts everything in perspective. It blurs pretty much anything else that was once ranking as important. In our experience, though, when the initial chaos and shock of the diagnosis calms, the deeper worry about managing the disease the ‘what-ifs’ of possible outcomes are often coupled with the devastating effect of the hidden cost of cancer.

The cost of cancer

Even people who, prior to diagnosis of themselves or a family member, had relative economic stability can find themselves in a new world of financial hardship. Charity CLIC Sargent estimates the weekly cost to a family when a child is diagnosed with cancer to be as much as £600 a month, not taking into account a drop in earnings which, in many cases, is inevitable. Just imagine …

  • Dropping from two full-time wages to one for a family that, prior to diagnosis, was ‘living within their means’ can have a devastating effect – the mortgage or rent still needs to be paid despite a reduction in income;
  • Families with a child experiencing cancer rarely have just the one child to care for, ensuring siblings are not overlooked during a period of extreme stress and disruption can be difficult to achieve.   Extending childcare provision for the sibling is often too expensive and inflexible, the sibling can get pulled in to their brother or sisters illness, being that close to it can be very frightening for them.
  • Employers asserting contractual terms related to a reduction in salary to compensate for time off also have a significant impact – this can be understandable from the employer’s perspective, but for the family it’s yet another blow and when they are in the eye of the storm it feels harsh, lonely and unkind. It puts their homes at risk, it brings pressure to their relationship with one another, it destabilises everything.
  • Families entering the benefits system for the first time with no clue about who to talk to about what, and trying to fit this in alongside the obvious pressure of coping with treatment, can lead to under-claiming or, in some cases, not feeling able to claim benefits at all;
  • Attempting to adjust working terms and conditions to provide for caring for a close family member to find that the employer takes a different view of legal protection and alteration of terms and conditions, leading to disputes or a reluctant acceptance on the part of the employee despite their legal entitlement;
  • Not being able to attend scheduled Welfare Benefits appointments for claimants attending hospital and out-patient clinics, leading to penalties and delays;
  • Costs associated with hospital stays and illness – Coffee shops aren’t a treat when it’s the venue for your everyday mealtimes; extra fuel bills to maintain body temperature for recuperating patients; endless bus fares, car parking fees and travel time to attend hospital visits and outpatients appointments.

The list goes on …

4 things employers can do to help

Although the cost of cancer is often hidden, the impact is most definitely real. We’re supporting clients to avoid, and unfortunately in some cases, reverse the tragic implications of the hidden cost of cancer, but what can employers do to help?

  1. Understand your obligations to your employees under current legislation so you don’t knowingly add to the financial burden by making errors in judgement;
  2. Encourage staff to get advice as early as possible to manage creditors and maximise income so they can balance their income and expenditure – Citizens Advice offers free advice as a starting point, and some locations (including Citizens Advice Gateshead) offer specialist money advice support to enable people to navigate the complexities of the benefits system;
  3. Be as flexible as the organisation can allow – if it was your family member ….;
  4. Offer referrals to support that can alleviate at least some of the stress on your staff member, and reduce the likelihood of further implications on their health and wellbeing down the line.

Above all, when dealing with a staff member who is experiencing cancer in their family remember they are feeling overwhelmed, their usual productivity, quality of work and attitude may not be present. If you can show them patience and kindness when they are at their lowest it will rarely be forgotten.

For practical problem solving like money advice, help with benefits, housing or employment issues Citizens Advice is a good place for your employees to start, call our national Adviceline on 03444 111 444 or visit www.citizensadvice.org.uk

For families with a child with cancer you will find a wealth of useful information on the CLIC Sargent website https://www.clicsargent.org.uk