Westcountry cancer patients rely on charity to heat homes
More than 500 Westcountry cancer patients have been forced to rely on charity to pay soaring fuel bills as campaigners claim Government cuts to benefits are heaping "misery upon misery".
The extent of deprivation felt by those diagnosed with the disease comes after research showed that 27,000 UK patients could owe as much as £2.8 million in overdue payments for heating bills.
The latest figures from Macmillan Cancer Support showed it paid out grants totalling £94,879 to 343 patients in Devon last year.
In Cornwall a total of £54,570 was awarded to 191 patients during 2012.
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The charity said more than 40% of those helped were given grants towards heating bills, a total of £35,105, with the second highest request being for warm clothes.
A leading campaigner in Cornwall said cancer patients often felt the cold far more acutely than the wider populations.
Rose Woodward, a patient advocate for the Rarer Cancers Foundation, who was diagnosed with the disease, said the number of queries to helplines about needing extra heating was "amazing".
"People who have had chemotherapy often feel chilled through to the bone," she added. "It is desperately sad that people coming to terms with the mental anguish of a diagnosis are having to worry about heating their homes – it is a double whammy in Cornwall where we often rely on more expensive fuel such as oil and just heaps misery upon misery.
"The changes to benefits are having an effect mentally as we are faced with this constant barrage and made to feel tainted as a scrounger – if they turn to charities they are met with a more sympathetic attitude."
The national problem among cancer sufferers is highlighted by Macmillan as Britain is gripped by sub-zero temperatures and just weeks after almost all the major energy suppliers hiked their bills by an average of 8%.
The charity found that one in three (34%) cancer patients have to put on outdoor clothes indoors to try to keep warm.
Patients diagnosed with a terminal cancer can automatically qualify for Attendance Allowance or Disability Living Allowance but for many others there is little extra help.
Macmillan Cancer Support said fuel bills often rise because cancer patients are spending more time at home and often feel colder because of their illness.
David Crosby, the charity's general manager in the South West, said: "While most of us were enjoying the festive period, cancer patients were clearly in desperate need of financial support.
"These figures and our recent research show just how much of a problem keeping up with fuel bills is for cancer patients."