Thousands of London cancer patients forced into selling possessions or cutting back on food to make ends meet as cost of living crisis continues to spiral


A leading cancer charity is calling for people to urgently access support, with new research uncovering the harsh reality for people living with cancer, as the cost of living crisis continues to take a devastating toll.

New data from Macmillan Cancer Support shows that thousands of people with cancer in London (11%) have been forced into selling personal possessions or to borrow money just to make ends meet, with one in five (21%) struggling to pay their basic living costs.

In some of the most extreme cases, people with cancer in the UK are resorting to borrowing money from unlicensed lenders such as loan sharks, while others are at risk of potential eviction from their homes.

More than one in four people with cancer in London (30%) have been buying or eating less food, and thousands (13%) have been spending more time in bed to stay warm; all of which could put their health, wellbeing or recovery from cancer at risk.

The stark data also found over 50,000 people with cancer in London (21%) did not feel their financial situation was strong enough to ride out the current cost of living crisis, while for around 120,000 people (45% of those with cancer in London), 2023 is going to be the ‘hardest year of their life so far’ when it comes to money worries.

UK-wide, the charity has also seen a 22% jump in calls about financial issues taken by its Support Line so far this year[v], with the number of calls answered by its financial guidance experts currently at their highest level since before the pandemic[vi].

The rising costs for people living with cancer comes on top of the existing financial impact a cancer diagnosis can already bring. Previous research by Macmillan found that four in five people with cancer in the UK experience a financial impact, which for those affected reaches almost £900 a month on average in addition to their usual outgoings[vii] – the equivalent of an extra one-and-a-half mortgage payments each month[viii]. Furthermore, many people in the UK are facing unacceptably long waits to receive the financial support they’re entitled to, with one in four (25%) of those with cancer on Personal Independence Payment (PIP) waiting more than 16 weeks to receive their first payment[ix], leaving far too many people struggling and falling into debt[x].

Sal was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2022 at 45 and is currently in treatment. She is on long-term sick leave and her only income now is Personal Independence Payment. Sal says: ‘The rising cost of living is relentless. Ever since I received my cancer diagnosis, we haven’t been able to afford to turn the central heating on, and my husband has had to take on a second job to keep a roof over our heads. We have even had to start washing clothes in buckets to avoid using our washing machine to cut costs. Macmillan helped me keep my head above water by providing us with a one-off grant, which was a lifesaver, and they also helped me navigate applying for my benefits as well. I really don’t know where I’d be without them.’

Macmillan is urging anyone in need of help to reach out to its free and confidential services. The charity’s Support Line is open 7 days a week where specially trained teams are on hand to make sure people get the financial support they need, including help with grants, energy support and benefits advice, as well as practical and emotional guidance.

Richard Pugh, Head of Partnerships at Macmillan Cancer Support, says: “Every day we’re hearing from people living with cancer who are struggling to get by and pay for the very basics. It’s heart-breaking that people are now being left with no other choice than to sell their personal possessions or take out loans pushing them into debt.

“We know that this is a very difficult time for many people and that it can be hard to make the first move in reaching out for support. It’s crucial that anyone who is feeling the pressure knows that we are here for them. We have specially trained teams on our Support Line who can offer confidential advice or simply provide a listening ear during this challenging time.”

Last year Macmillan gave out over £19 million in grants to more than 48,000 people with cancer across the UK – this is almost £7 million more than in the equivalent period the previous year, and the number of people supported jumped by 45%[xi]. Additionally, Macmillan has also committed £30 million over the next three years to fund welfare benefits services across UK communities to help people living with cancer during the cost of living crisis