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by Ellie Wagstaff, Marie Curie
19 December 2022
Associate Feature: The Cost of Living is pushing terminally ill people to breaking point

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Associate Feature: The Cost of Living is pushing terminally ill people to breaking point

The cost of living crisis is pushing terminally ill people to breaking point. Terminal illness has no respect for people’s bank balance, personal circumstances, or age.

Being terminally ill and reaching the end of life can substantially increase the risk of poverty, not just for the person who is terminally ill but also for carers and families who look after them. Working age people are at particular risk of falling into poverty if they become terminally ill.

The double burden of income loss and increased cost of living expenditure brought on by a terminal illness, such as higher energy bills, can leave people struggling to make ends meet, and force those who were already on the threshold below the poverty line.

Earlier in 2022, Marie Curie and Loughborough University research found that 8,200 people are dying in poverty at the end of life every year in Scotland. This equates to one in four working age people, and in areas of acute deprivation such as Glasgow and Dundee, this rises to one in three. One in eight pensioners are also affected.

Energy bills have skyrocketed in the last year, and terminally ill people are already at a heightened risk of experiencing fuel poverty, as their symptoms will often make them feel colder and they will spend increasing amounts of time at home with the heating on as their condition deteriorates.

According to research by University of York, by early 2023, more than 70% of Scottish households are expected to be living in fuel poverty, with some of the most rural areas across the country being the most affected(1). For terminally ill people, this could significantly impact their health, and quality of life.

Average energy bills have been shown to almost double after a diagnosis of motor neurone disease(2), for example, a condition that will affect many patients while they are of working age.

Marie Curie recently commissioned a poll of the Scottish public to understand the extent to which people in Scotland:

  • Would have a financial safety net of their own if diagnosed with a terminal illness
  • If they would welcome further support
  • Which groups they felt had the most responsibility to protect people against falling into poverty as the result of terminal illness

The results found on average that 94% are concerned about family or friends who are terminally ill being able to keep their home warm over autumn and winter and 75% would struggle to pay their energy bills this autumn and winter if they were diagnosed with a terminal illness and unable to work. Women in particular would struggle a lot (78%).

Furthermore, there is strong public support (80%) that Governments should take targeted action to support terminally ill people with the cost of living(3).

The economic climate is tough, and recent social security developments in ensuring all terminally ill people can access the Adult Disability Payment are welcome. But the cost of living is impacting terminally ill people disproportionately, and more support from Scottish and UK Governments is urgently needed for this vulnerable group.

This should include extending eligibility of the upcoming Scottish Winter Heating Payment to all terminally ill people of working age, and UK Government giving all terminally ill people access to their state pension, no matter their age.

No-one should be dying in poverty, but without further Government support, terminally ill people continue to be at significant risk.

(2) Demos (2017). MND costs: Exploring the financial impact of motor neurone disease

(3) ‘Targeted Action’ refers to support aimed at people with particular needs or vulnerabilities to rising costs, such as those who are terminally ill, in addition to support governments make available to everyone

Ellie Wagstaff is Senior Policy Manager for Marie Curie.

This article is sponsored by Marie Curie.

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