Research suggests that the economic cost of cancer is £7.6bn

cancer patient looking out the window
© iStock/Ridofranz

A new report from think tank Demos, on behalf of Pfizer, reveals the economic and social impact of cancer patients across Britain is £7.6bn, suggesting more needs to be done.

There are now 2.5m people living with cancer in the UK. And studies suggest that this could reach four million by the year 2030. Although these figures are high, the UK is far behind the rest of Europe in cancer spending and outcomes. Demos, Britain’s leading cross-party think tank, is calling on the Government to spend more time investing and addressing the impact of cancer on families, individuals and communities by raising the standards of care. These findings form part of a major new research project Cancer Costs, prepared on behalf of Pfizer.

Demos finds that women are economically hit the hardest by cancer. 55% are forced to change their working patterns compared with just 40% of men. These changes range from taking unpaid leave through to quitting work. Even after cancer, Demos finds women have more difficulty in reaching their previous level of income – with 55% receiving a lower income compared to just 51% of men.

However, not only are people who have disease suffering. Demos found that 20% of cancer patients are currently being supported by family or friends who have also had to change their working patterns, suggesting that the financial implications stretch a lot further. As one of the focus group participants expressed: “[cancer affects] one person, one diagnosis, but a whole family impacted.”

Erling Donnelly, Head of Oncology, Pfizer UK said: “This research shines a spotlight on the social and economic impact that cancer has on patients, their families and friends and the wider UK society.

“It is critical that Government, NHS and industry work collaboratively with the cancer community at all levels to ensure patients and their families are supported throughout their individual cancer journey. By working in partnership, we can ensure our health and social care system is best set up to provide world-leading support for those affected by cancer.”

Alongside the economic impact, the new research also underlines the tremendous social impact cancer has. 76% of individuals report that cancer has negatively impacted their family life, with a further 66% stating that cancer has put a serious strain on their family’s social life. This can be detrimental to the mental wellbeing of cancer patients’ relatives and friends, as well as their own.

Changes for the better

Based on the findings of the research and with more people now surviving cancer, Demos argues policymakers urgently need to address how we help those affected live free and more fulfilling lives.

Demos suggests that the Government should invest an extra £2.1bn a year to match the average European spending on cancer. Demos also believes that the Government should introduce the ‘Finnish Model’. Which gives entitlements of part-time sick leave to cancer patients and would allow individuals to reduce their hours and claim a relevant level of statutory sick pay. This would leave individuals with more flexibility to manage their condition and reduce overall absenteeism.

Further financial relief for cancer patients could happen if the Government extended the 25 per cent tax-free lump sum pensions freedom to diagnosed cancer patients under the age of 55 at no further cost or change to their pension status. On top of this, all terminally ill citizens should be able to draw their pension down in full, tax-free, with no penalty for previous drawdowns.

Commenting on the report’s findings, Sacha Hilhorst, Senior Researcher at Demos and Cancer Costs co-author said: “There are two big challenges facing cancer policy in the next decade. First, despite the upward trajectory of survival rates, our cancer outcomes still lag behind most comparable European countries – and the Government needs to boost investment to catch-up.

“Second, as more and more people survive cancer, it is no longer acceptable to view cancer entirely through a healthcare lens. Policymakers now need to focus on a simple question: how can we help those affected by cancer – patients, families and communities – live free and more fulfilling lives? There are a number of ways the Government can do this now – extending pensions freedoms, introducing statutory carers leave and providing a flexible system of part-time sick leave entitlements that has had so much success in countries like Finland.”


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