Blood cancer: money and work
Financial support during the cost of living crisis, and your rights at work.
Updated 11 August 2023
What you need to know
- Financial support is available – find out about benefits you may be entitled to, help with energy and food costs, and other sources of support with the cost of living.
- You’ve got rights at work – The law is on your side. In England, Scotland and Wales you’re protected from discrimination by The Equality Act, and in Northern Ireland, by the Disability Discrimination Act.
- Whatever stage you’re at, you’re protected – If you’re in remission, on watch and wait, if you have a chronic blood cancer, or an MPN or MDS, you are still entitled to protection and support at work.
You can also join the conversation about the rising cost of living on our online community forum.
On this page:
Benefits and grants
Make sure you get the financial support you’re entitled to - it might be more money than you realise.
People with blood cancer who get benefits say that they can make a big difference and help to reduce money worries. Possible benefits you could get include:
- Disability-related benefits – These include Personal Independence Payment, Adult Disability Payment, Employment and Support Allowance and Attendance Allowance. If you care for someone with blood cancer, you might be able to claim Carers Allowance.
- Low-income benefits – These include Universal Credit, Housing Benefit and Council Tax Reduction.
We've listed these benefits to give an idea of what you might be able to claim, but there are lots more. It's worth using a benefits calculator or speaking to a benefits adviser to check what you could be entitled to.
My mum found out about Personal Independence Payments (PIP) for me, and I received them even though I was working. That was a big help.
- Bianca, 35
Get help with benefits
The process of applying for benefits can feel overwhelming, especially if you're dealing with the side effects of blood cancer and its treatment, like fatigue and brain fog. But there are people who can help:
- Ask your GP, clinical nurse specialist or doctor – They can often provide a letter of support or information to include with your application.
- Call a helpline – You can contact Citizens Advice on 0344 411 1444. Macmillan Cancer Support also have specialist benefits advisers on 0808 808 00 00.
- Ask your local council – Many councils have a welfare rights team that can help with benefits, or they can tell you about services that can help in your local area. Find your local council.
- Find benefits help near you – Turn2us has an advice finder where you can search for services near you.
- Family and friends – If you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s OK to ask for help. Could a friend or family member help you find out about benefits or fill in forms?
"Have any other blood cancer patients had problems with claiming benefits like ESA and PIP? How do they treat people with long-term illnesses and side effects?"
People with blood cancer are discussing access to benefits on our online forum. Read the conversation and join if you want to here: Accessing benefits
Grants from charities
There are charities that offer grants to people with blood cancer:
- Anthony Nolan offer one-off grants for people who've have had, or are due to have, any type of stem cell transplant.
- Macmillan Cancer Support offer Macmillan grants.
- Leukaemia Care and Leukaemia UK are offering grants through their Cost of Living with Leukaemia Fund.
- Young Live vs Cancer offer grants for people diagnosed aged 24 or under and their families.
- You can search for charitable grants on the Turn2Us website.
Louise S's story
How I found the financial support I needed
Help with energy and water bills
Tell your supplier as soon as possible if you’re struggling to pay your bills. They can offer support to help you pay, including payment plans and access to hardship funds. Let them know you have blood cancer, as suppliers should offer extra support for vulnerable customers.
Help with the cost of food
If you’re struggling to afford food, there are places that can help. Don’t let shame or pride get in the way of using them. They exist to make sure no one goes hungry, and won’t judge you for needing support.
- Food banks – give out free emergency food packages. They sometimes provide toiletries, sanitary products, cleaning products and pet food as well. Depending on the food bank you go to, you might need a referral: from a GP, school, social worker or Citizens Advice.
- Social supermarkets – also known as community supermarkets or community shops, these are shops that sell surplus stock from supermarkets for very reduced prices. Find out more about social supermarkets at MoneySavingExpert.
- Community fridges – are spaces where anyone can get free, good quality food that would otherwise go to waste. You can search for your nearest community fridge at Hubbub.
- Community meal schemes – aim to tackle food poverty, loneliness and food waste by offering free meals and a space to meet others. Find out more at Food Cycle.
More support and ways to save money
Here are some things that could help during the cost of living crisis and beyond:
- Free parking at hospitals – Parking at NHS hospitals in Scotland and Wales is free. In England and Northern Ireland, many hospitals offer free parking to people with cancer, but it might not be well advertised. Ask your medical team if your hospital can help with this.
- Free prescriptions – Prescriptions are free in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In England, you can can get a medical exemption certificate that allows you to get all your prescriptions for free. Ask your GP surgery for the form.
- Help with health costs – You may be able to get help with health costs. It takes just three minutes to check online.
- Refunds for health-related travel – If you have a low income, or receive certain benefits, you may be able to get refunds for your travel costs to hospital. Speak to your medical team to find out more.
- Check if you can claim on your insurance – Could you draw on your income protection insurance, critical illness cover, or life insurance?
- Help from your local council – Local councils can sometimes provide emergency grants to people in urgent need. Check with your council to find out more.
- Speak to your employer – Many employers offer staff benefits and discounts that can help you save money. Some are also giving one-off payments to help with the cost of living.
- Check for other sources of support – The IncomeMax Self-Help Checklist is a tool to help you find sources of help and support during the cost of living crisis.
If you are looking for information about travel insurance, we have a partnership with Staysure to provide travel insurance for people with blood cancer.
"Has anyone else, since their diagnosis, experienced problems either getting travel insurance or the cost of it?"
People with blood cancer are discussing travel insurance providers on our online forum. Read the conversation and join if you want to here: Travel Insurance and blood cancer
Your rights at work
As someone who’s been diagnosed with cancer, you have rights at work. You're protected by The Equality Act (in England, Scotland and Wales) and the Disability Discrimination Act (in Northern Ireland).
If your employer knows about your diagnosis, then legally they have to consider ‘reasonable adjustments’ to support you at work. This includes adjustments that protect your health, such as allowing you to work from home, or adjusting your duties or hours to help you with side effects such as fatigue.
You can ask for reasonable adjustments at any time, not just when you're first diagnosed or when returning to work. It’s helpful to have regular catch-ups with your manager to check how things are going and see if you need any other changes.
Examples of reasonable adjustments include:
- support to work from home as someone who's at high risk from covid
- a phased return to work (building up your hours gradually after being off sick)
- taking time off for medical appointments or telephone counselling
- taking more breaks
- limiting work that you find challenging as a result of your diagnosis
- changing start or finish times
- reducing your working hours.
Asking for help to work through chemo
Finding helpful adjustments
Step 1: Write down the specific things that make work more challenging (e.g. the hours or certain tasks).
Step 2: Think of a way to alter each thing (e.g. change hours or propose changes to your role).
Step 3: Talk to your employer as soon as you can about your ideas for reasonable adjustments. Show them your list or email them using the templates below
Talking to your employer
It's helpful to talk to you employer about how they can help you continue in your role. In fact, this is something you may need to keep coming back to, as the effects of blood cancer and its treatment change over time.
It might also help to give your employer this fact sheet about blood cancer, which explains your rights at work.
If you’re not sure what to say to your manager, our email template could help:
What do reasonable adjustments mean for someone with blood cancer?
Working safely with blood cancer
By law, your employer has a duty to look after your health and safety at work. They should discuss how blood cancer affects you, and consider changes to help you do your job safely. This should involve a risk assessment.
When doing a risk assessment, it's important for your employer to understand that what’s safe for you isn’t the same as what’s safe for someone who doesn’t have blood cancer. As a person with blood cancer, you're likely to be at higher risk from infection, including covid. Your employer should also be aware that the covid vaccine is not as effective in people with blood cancer as it is in other people.
Can I work from home to protect myself from covid and other infections?
You don't have an automatic right to work from home, but your employer has a duty of care to protect you at work, and it could be a reasonable adjustment you can request under equality law.
This is what the governments in the UK say about working from home:
In England, the government says if you have a weakened immune system (immunosuppressed) you should work from home if you can, and you wish to.
The Scottish government says employers should consider the needs of workers who are higher risk, including their wish to work from home if this is possible.
The Welsh government says employers should consider working from home as a reasonable adjustment for people with a weakened immune system.
Here are some ways you could start a conversation with your employer about working from home:
- “As you know, I’ve been diagnosed with blood cancer. Blood cancer and its treatment affects the immune system. This means I need to be very careful to avoid coronavirus, as it could have serious consequences if I get it.”
- “My doctor says I need to take extra care to avoid other people and work from home wherever possible.”
- “Please can we talk about possible ways I could work from home to protect my health?”
- “Are there any reasonable adjustments we could make to my role or duties during this time, to allow me to work from home?”
What if my employer doesn't want me to work from home?
Here are some things that might help:
- Talk to your medical team and get their advice about working from home in writing if you can.
- Talk to your HR department or union if you have one.
- Show your employer our information about vaccine efficacy and blood cancer, which explains that people with blood cancer might not be protected by the covid vaccine.
- Think of changes to your duties that you could suggest to your employer, that would allow you to work from home.
- Contact Acas for expert advice.
- Share our fact sheet If your employee or colleague has blood cancer with your employer.
You may also find it useful to share this letter from a coalition of charities led by Kidney Care UK:
How should I talk to my employer about my concerns?
What if I can't do my job from home?
For anyone who can't work from home but is concerned about going into the workplace, there are some options to consider – click on the numbered sections below.
Aside from the pandemic, you might need your employer to consider these options if the symptoms and side effects of blood cancer affect your ability to do your job effectively.
If you can't work from home full-time, are there some duties you can perform from home, to reduce how much you need to spend at your workplace? Adjusting your role so that some of it can be done from home, to reduce the number of days you go in, is an example of a reasonable adjustment.
Another reasonable adjustment could be changing your hours, so you can travel to and from work at quieter times.
Are there changes to your duties at work that would reduce your contact with other people? For example, could you work more in a back room/office or do more admin, rather than being public-facing? Could you work quieter shifts where you’ll have less contact with other people?
Even now that covid restrictions are relaxed across the UK, you should only go to work if your workplace is safe for you.
If you need to go out to work, you have rights and your employer has a legal duty to keep you safe. There are guidelines for employers about ensuring workplaces are safe in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. These include completing risk assessments – if you haven’t been consulted about a risk assessment, ask for one.
As part of your risk assessment, you can get advice from your medical team or GP in writing and show this to your employer.
You may also need to explain to your employer that people with blood cancer may not be fully protected by covid vaccinations – our free fact sheet If your employee or colleague has blood cancer will help with this. Or you can share this link to our information on vaccine efficacy.
If your GP or medical team believe you're not able to work because of your blood cancer diagnosis or any other illness, they can give you a fit note. This gives you access to your company's sick leave policy and pay, or Statutory Sick Pay.
Even if your workplace has measures in place to protect staff from covid, you or your doctor might still feel it's not safe enough considering how vulnerable you are. Or you might not be able to travel safely to work. In either case, talk to your GP if you don't think you should be going to work.
If you're being pressured to go to work, despite your medical team's advice that it is unsafe, you're protected by law against unfair treatment and dismissal due to a health condition. If your employer puts unreasonable pressure on you to attend work, or unreasonably disciplines you for not attending work, this may be unlawful discrimination. If you're concerned about this, seek advice from Acas (Helpline: 0300 123 1100).
Delaying your return to the workplace
If you don't feel it's safe to go back to your workplace, for example, if your employer is looking for you to return after sick leave, there are things you can consider to delay your return:
- using some of your annual leave to take paid time off
- asking for unpaid leave so you can delay your return for a while
- finding out if there are other types of leave you could take, like parental leave if you look after children.
If you don’t want to return to work and are worried about your job or finances, contact Acas (Helpline: 0300 123 1100).
Can I ask for redundancy if I don't feel safe?
Help if you're self-employed
If you're self-employed and need financial support because of blood cancer, the pandemic or rising costs affecting your business, there may be benefits or other support you can get.
Macmillan Cancer Support has a guide for self-employed people with cancer.
MoneyHelper has information about help if you're self-employed.
Boosting your confidence at work
It may feel like a struggle to keep working while you’re living with cancer – particularly during the current pandemic. Or you might have had time off and be finding the thought of going back daunting, especially if you’re returning to a different working environment like working from home. But there are things you can do to boost your self-esteem:
- Know your rights – You’re protected by the law against discrimination and your employer should make reasonable adjustments (see above) to support you.
- Access the help that’s available – Ask your work about training, special equipment or back-to-work support. Look into the access to work scheme, employability support, the National Careers Service or ask about support from your trade union if you have one.
- Look after yourself – Take care of your mind and emotions and read our tips on managing fatigue.
"I did a phased return. I was sharing the shift with another manager at first. And if I wanted to, I’d sit down for an hour or something. They've always said, if you feel you want to go, just go home - just do what you can do. I can't ask for more."
Mart, living with myeloma since 2020
Rethinking whether to work
Some people decide to stop working after a cancer diagnosis. This is a big decision, and it’s important to get the right advice. Get the right information from MoneyHelper, find a retirement advisor in your area, or call Macmillan Cancer Support (0808 808 00 00) to speak to a financial guide.
Whatever your situation, other people living with blood cancer say that changing their approach to work has made a positive difference. For example, some people try to get more balance. This could mean spending more time on your interests and with your family, or trying a new hobby, volunteering or studying.
After I stopped working, I wanted more to focus on, and found an introduction to counselling course. My family said I’d be great at it because they always talk to me about their problems!
- Joanna, 50
What financial support is available if I don't work?
If you’re not working, you might be eligible for certain financial support from the government. There are other types of financial support available too, like one-off cash grants or help paying bills. See benefits and grants.
Problems at work
It's important to know that as someone who’s been diagnosed with cancer, the law protects you from discrimination at work. You're protected by The Equality Act (in England, Scotland and Wales) and the Disability Discrimination Act (in Northern Ireland).
In the videos below, Simon Allen from ACAS explains how the disability discrimination laws can help if you're being treated badly at work.
How can I handle an unsupportive or hostile work environment?
What if I'm pushed into redundancy but don't want to take it?
More tools and support
More employment help:
- An occupational health specialist could help with your conversations with your employer. Ask your workplace or your hospital if they have access to occupational health.
- If you have concerns about your employment rights, seek expert advice from Acas (Helpline: 0300 123 1100) or Disability Rights UK.
- Macmillan Cancer Support has information for self-employed people with cancer.
More financial help:
- MoneyHelper offers free webchat, Whatsapp and phone advice on all money matters.
- If you need financial support for any reason, contact Citizens Advice on 0344 411 1444.
- MoneyHelper also has information on managing your money in uncertain times.
Work and money stress:
- Work and money worries can add to the stress of living with blood cancer. Many workplaces have an employee assistance programme (EAP) which may offer counselling. This should still be available to you if you’re working from home or are on sick leave.
- There are also things you can do yourself to cope with the emotional impact – read more about looking after your mind and emotions.
Janssen-Cilag Ltd has supported Blood Cancer UK with funding for the production of this web page and others within the ‘Living well’ section. It had no influence over the content.
We've partnered with Staysure to make travel insurance easier to access for people affected by blood cancer.