Macmillan Cancer Support has today published a new report, In The Balance, which looks at the banking sector’s progress in supporting people with cancer and what more needs to be done to ensure that people get the support they need.
The financial impact of cancer is significant – with research showing that four out of five people with cancer are, on average, £570 a month worse off as result of increased costs and decreased income.[i] This can leave people struggling to make ends meet. Every year an estimated 400,000 people living with cancer across the UK find it difficult to pay their household bills because of their diagnosis.[ii]
A cancer diagnosis can put someone at risk of financial exclusion almost overnight. A previously ‘standard’ insurance risk or ‘prime’ credit-worthy customer may be viewed differently by the financial services industry almost from the point of diagnosis, because of their changed health and financial situation. As cancer can affect anyone – regardless of income, profession, or location – this creates the potential for new groups of people, who may not traditionally be viewed as at risk, to become financially excluded.
As providers of mortgages and other key financial commitments, banks and building societies have an unrivalled ability both to reach and support people affected by the financial impact of cancer. However, Macmillan continues to hear that customers with cancer face difficulty in accessing flexible options such as a reduction in mortgage repayments, deferred interest or payment holidays that would give them vital leeway to manage their financial commitments during treatment or time off work. This is concerning, as damage to a credit file through missed payments can restrict someone’s ability to make a full financial recovery and lead to long-term exclusion from mainstream financial services. While banks can do little to reduce the direct cost of cancer or the sudden income shock that it can cause, by improving policies and procedures as well as the way frontline and specialist staff support people affected by cancer, they have the power to make a real difference.
Macmillan Cancer Support’s new report, In The Balance, sets out the banking sector’s vital role in supporting people with cancer. It calls on banks and building societies to get better at identifying people at risk of financial difficulty at an early - pre-arrears - stage and to develop flexible interventions to help prevent their financial commitments from spiralling out of control. It also calls for better communication to raise awareness of the support available for people affected by cancer and ensure that customers are referred to specialised support where this is available. For the long-term, the report highlights the importance of designing flexibility into products and processes to help customers cope with unexpected life events such as a diagnosis of serious illness, that can make them vulnerable and at risk of exclusion.
Macmillan is proud of the progress that has been made working in partnership with Nationwide Building Society and Lloyds Banking Group to develop specialised support for their members and customers affected by cancer. The wider sector’s increasing awareness of consumer vulnerability and financial exclusion is also encouraging. However, there is still more to do to ensure that people affected by cancer get the financial support they need. Action is needed now. This will require not only banks to take responsibility for making change but also industry bodies, the FCA and the Government to play their part. Working together to raise industry standards and increase trust, we can reduce the risk of financial exclusion and get the balance right so that people feel confident to ask for support and banks are able to provide it.
[i] Research commissioned by Macmillan Cancer Support, carried out by researchers from the University of Bristol Personal Finance Research Centre in partnership with TNS BMRB, and part-funded by our partner The RBS Group. Figures based on a postal survey of 1,610 adults with a cancer diagnosis, recruited from a database of callers to the Macmillan Support Line and visitors to a sample of Macmillan Information and Support Centres located in hospitals across the UK. The majority (95%) had received cancer treatment within the last six months. Fieldwork took place between August and October 2012. Results were weighted to be representative of all people with a cancer diagnosis in the UK by age, gender, cancer type and country of residence.
[ii] Macmillan Cancer Support/YouGov online survey of 2,011 UK adults who have ever been diagnosed with cancer. Fieldwork was conducted between 7 and 11 November 2014. Survey data has been weighted by age and gender to match the known profile of people living with cancer (using 2008 cancer prevalence estimates). 42% of those surveyed said they or their partner had struggled at least from time to time in the last 12 months with household bills. Of these, 36% said their struggle was at least partially due to loss of income or increased costs resulting from your cancer diagnosis/treatment. These survey results have been applied to the total estimated number of people living with cancer in the UK (2,500,000) to generate an annual estimate of 400,000.