Economic impact of cancer in the UK revealed

image of a calculator with a hand pressing the buttons to show Economic impact of cancer in the UK revealed

New Demos research into the economic impact of cancer has been published and it calculates it to be £7.6bn in lost wages and benefits (including mortality). There are now 2.5 million people living with cancer in the UK. By the year 2030, this figure may be as high as four million. However, the UK lags far behind the rest of Europe in cancer outcomes and spending. Demos is calling on the Government to address this and invest in raising standards of care for people with cancer.

Cancer Costs: a ripple effect analysis of cancer’s wider impact reveals the UK currently spends 5% of its total healthcare budget on cancer, compared to an average of 6% across EU countries. Raising UK cancer spending to the EU average would require an extra £2.1 billion in funding a year, equating to over half (51%) of the extra funding the Government recently allocated to the NHS for 2019-2020 and 2020-2021.

These findings form part of a major new research project Cancer Costs, prepared on behalf of Pfizer. Drawing on original survey work and interviews Demos conducted with citizens across the country, the research reveals the significant economic and social impact cancer has on individuals, families and communities across Britain.

Demos finds the total economic cost of cancer to be £7.6 billion in lost wages and benefits (including mortality). Once diagnosed, cancer patients and their family and friends experience severe financial difficulties and disadvantages in the employment market – around half are forced to make changes to their working patterns. Alarmingly, Demos finds 53% of people with cancer see their income fall by at least one income bracket.

Women are hit particularly hard – with 55% of women changing their working patterns after diagnosis compared to 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, the financial implications of cancer stretch far beyond the individual. In fact, Demos finds 20% of cancer patients are currently being supported by a family or friend who has changed their working patterns as a result of caring responsibilities. As one of the focus group participants expressed: “[cancer affects] one person, one diagnosis, but a whole family impacted”.

Alongside the economic impact, the new research also underlines the tremendous social impact cancer has on individuals, their families and communities. 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.

With more people now surviving cancer, Demos argues policymakers urgently need to address how we help those affected live freer and more fulfilling lives.

Based on the findings of the research, Demos is calling for:

  • The Government to match NHS spending on cancer to the European average by 2030. This will equate to an extra £2.1 billion a year.
  • The Government to legislate to introduce the ‘Finnish model’ of part-time sick leave entitlements for cancer patients. This would allow individuals to reduce their hours and claim a reduced and relevant level of statutory sickness entitlement. In turn, this would leave individuals with more flexibility to manage their condition rather than the current ‘all or nothing’ model of sickness protection. Demos argues this would be crucial in boosting overall labour market participation for people with cancer and, as in Finland, reduce overall absenteeism.
  • The Government to extend the 25% 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.
  • The NHS to fully commit to personalised care. To this end, Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships (STPs) and Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) should set out plans to meet their 2021 targets and ensure that financial wellbeing is an integral part of these strategies.

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 freer 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.”

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.”