24 Sep 2021

Leading leukaemia charities call on Rishi Sunak not to cut financial lifeline for blood cancer patients

Leading blood cancer charities have today sent a letter to Chancellor Rishi Sunak, calling on him to continue financial support for leukaemia and other blood cancer patients currently on furlough as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Leukaemia Care, Leukaemia UK and Leukaemia and Lymphoma Northern Ireland, have written to the Chancellor urging him to realise the devastating impact the end of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will have on the clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV). 

After more than a year of shielding, people with blood cancer remain vulnerable to COVID-19 even while fully vaccinated. Several studies have shown that the COVID-19 vaccine has significantly reduced efficacy in this group, due to their suppressed immune systems and consequent challenges in antibody production. In addition to low levels of protection from the COVID-19 vaccine, blood cancer patients are at severe risk of serious illness and death should they contract the virus. 

The clinically extremely vulnerable account for approximately 75% of deaths from COVID-19 in the UK, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Furthermore, this group accounts for approximately 77% of deaths among the fully vaccinated. Of those deaths, the immunocompromised make up 13.1%, while only making up 0.75% of the total population. Blood cancer patients are amongst the most vulnerable within this group. 

Zack Pemberton-Whiteley, Chief Executive of Leukaemia Care, said: 

“COVID-19 cases are currently high and there is insufficient dedicated support to protect leukaemia patients. The end of the furlough scheme is coming quickly after the removal of the shielding programme, resulting in those who are still vulnerable having limited means by which to protect themselves from the virus. Many feel abandoned by the lack of government support.” 

The furlough scheme has been vitally important for those who are immunocompromised, especially those working in jobs where reasonable adjustments are difficult to implement. Those professions, where working from home is often not possible, include teaching, caring, hairdressing, construction and hospitality. Data shows 48% of the total population work and 10% of those who work are in the hospitality and tourism sector, an industry where reasonable adjustments are often difficult to implement. As there are 500,000 immunocompromised people in the UK, it could be inferred that approximately 240,000 (48%) of those people work and 24,000 (10%) work in hospitality and tourism sectors alone. When other relevant industries are included, the number of immunocompromised people who work in jobs where reasonable adjustments are difficult to implement becomes significant. 

As the end of the furlough scheme fast approaches, the clinically extremely vulnerable who must return to work as before the pandemic are left with no choice but to put their health and their lives on the line in order to maintain their livelihoods. This is a fundamentally unjust expectation, with severe consequences. Through the #LifeVsLivelihood campaign, the leading UK blood cancer charities responsible for the campaign heard from patients that 1 in 4 had fears of unfair redundancies amidst the pandemic. 

Fiona Hazell, Chief Executive of Leukaemia UK, said: 

“Now more than ever, blood cancer patients and their families across the UK need hope for the future and greater support day-to-day. Unlike the majority of UK citizens who can return to life and work with a large degree of confidence, for blood cancer patients it is a daily lottery between their lives and livelihoods. For many, returning to their place of work would put them in considerable danger from COVID-19 and it would be irresponsible of the government to force them to do so.”  

If the CEV, such as those with blood cancer, cannot work from home and feel unable to go into the workplace despite requests from their employer as the furlough scheme ends, the employer could dismiss them on grounds of being unable to perform their job. Once dismissed, they are highly likely to need support from the state in the form of universal credit or other unemployment support. This would cause additional strain on the Government as well as financial and emotional toll on these patients and their loved ones. 

Leukaemia UK, Leukaemia Care and Leukaemia and Lymphoma Northern Ireland urge immediate action from the government to rethink the need for continued financial support for the clinically extremely vulnerable. 

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