The cost of health problems

Lesley Dobson / 08 November 2017

Long-term health problems are bad for your body and your bank account.



Cancer, heart problems, dementia – all these conditions can have long-term effects on your physical and mental health, changing the way you live, and the way you look at life.

Unfortunately, the effects don’t end there. Many long-term illnesses also have quite dramatic effects on your financial health as well. And this is a problem that can affect the whole family, at a time when you are already under pressure.

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After the distress of having a diagnosis of a serious or long-term health problem, discovering that your family finances are also going to be in bad shape can come as an extra shock. You may have to pay for travel to appointments, for parking at hospitals, for special equipment to help you manage at home and other extra expenses. Family members may have to take time off work to help you or other relatives, reducing their income. And you may need to buy new clothes if you lose weight, and pay higher heating bills if your treatment means that you are more affected by cold temperatures than you used to be.

Macmillan Cancer Support has clear evidence of how much the financial worries of serious illness affects us. They report that their support line is 25 times more likely to take calls that are asking for help with financial problems, than to answer calls about death or dying. And an online survey that they carried out among 995 adults with cancer, showed that 45% of those who took part, and were affected by cancer were surprised by how much the disease affected their finances.

83% of patients find that travelling to hospital for regular treatment costs them about £570 a month on top of their usual expenses.

However, in other research by Macmillan, they found that only 11% of those involved asked their bank for financial help. This is despite research finding that 83% of patients find that travelling to hospital for regular treatment costs them about £570 a month on top of their usual expenses.

It isn’t only physical health problems that affect our finances. Mental health problems can also hit our finances hard. MoneySavingExpert.com founder Martin Lewis set up the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute in 2016. The Money on your Mind report, published in June 2016, surveyed over 5,000 people with mental health issues.

The survey found that mental health problems had a clear effect on the finances of those affected. Of those included in the survey, 93% said that they spent more money when they weren’t well, and 72% said that their financial state had become worse because of their mental health. Other problems included not being able to remember details about loans they had taken out, and falling behind on payments for outstanding bills or loans (53% of those surveyed).

Having money worries as well as health problems can add dramatically to your stress levels – and those of your family. If you know that you are spending too much, and are in debt, or are likely to fall into debt, it is important to do something about the problem – don’t wait until it becomes a crisis situation.

Help and information

Macmillan Cancer Support

Age UK: info on benefits; help with low income.

Alzheimer’s Society: info on benefits and how to claim them and help with NHS and housing costs.

British Heart Foundation: has links to other useful organisations and charities.

Benefits Directgov: government website includes information on disability benefits

CarersUK: information on financial support, including help with benefits and health costs.

Citizens Advice Bureau: information on benefits available to people who are ill or who care for someone who is ill or disabled

Scope: information for people who are disabled, and for those who look after someone who is disabled.

TURN2US: This national charity can help you find out if there are benefits or other financial support that might help you.

One woman’s story

‘When my partner had a devastating stroke nine years ago, our whole family was knocked for six. David’s medical team explained calmly, but very clearly, that he had no chance of surviving for more than a few months. We spent our days – and nights – in a state of shock,’ explains Jane Walker.

‘Then something changed, and David was opening his eyes and smiling at us. Our worries didn’t go away, but they lifted enough for me to start thinking about another major problem that had been building up – money.

‘I soon discovered that there was very little help for people in my situation. I had to carry every piece of paper evidence I had to show that we were a couple, that David couldn’t speak, and no, he could not come into the bank/building society.

‘I lost count of the times I ended up in tears. But our friends were wonderful, they sat by me while I made endless phone calls, and were incredibly supportive.’

‘There are now more sources of help and advice available to people who are struggling with the illness of someone they love and having to pay for transport to hospitals, and the other expenses that come with a serious illness – food, heating, equipment etc. So don’t be afraid to ask for help – it can make a huge difference.’   

How Macmillan can help

Macmillan Cancer Support and Lloyds Banking Group have joined forces and created the Cancer Support Team. This team includes Macmillan-trained advisors who can give specialist guidance to Lloyds Bank, Halifax, and Bank of Scotland customers. This means that they can offer support with personal banking, savings, mortgages, loans and credit cards.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.