Around a third of chronically ill people are now in debt and struggling to pay bills

A woman in shadow representing chronic illness chronically ill DWP
Support us and go ad-free

A survey has shown that just under a third (30%) of chronically ill people, or those who are injured and off work, are now in debt to the tune of over £1,500. Moreover, over a third (34%) of them say they are struggling to keep on top of their bills. The results of the survey show that benefits from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) are failing to support people when they need it.

Chronic illness: sweeping the UK

As the Canary has documented, chronic illness is a major issue in the UK. 2.5 million working-age people are classed as economically inactive due to long-term sickness – with 38% of them living with five or more health conditions. This is an increase of over 400,000 people since the start of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

Much of the increase may be due to long Covid. There’s also been an increase in people living with mental health issues. There’s also been changes in people’s health. As the Office for National Statistics (ONS) wrote:

Between 2016 and 2019, there was a small fall in the proportion of people who reported no health conditions, decreasing from 71% to 69%. However, from the onset of the… pandemic, this downward trajectory accelerated so that in January to March 2023, only 64% of working-age people reported having no health conditions. This is an absolute drop of 2 million since the same period in 2019. Conversely, the number of people who reported having one or two health conditions has steadily increased over time, from 8.5 million (21%) in 2016 to 10.6 million (25%) in 2023.

That is, people who are sick have been getting sicker. Now, a survey has found that many of these chronically ill people are struggling financially.

Financial chaos

Credit management company Lowell ran a survey of people who were either chronically ill or off work injured in May. The results were stark. It found that in terms of finances:

  • 43% have seen increased energy bills due to rising prices.
  • 37% cannot work.
  • 36% say the cost of medical bills have made their finances worse.

Then, in terms of family finances:

Read on...

Support us and go ad-free
  • 45% have had to claim benefits.
  • 34% have struggled to pay bills, including mortgages.
  • 21% said their family has built up debt to support them.
  • 21% say a family member/members have had to cut down hours or stop working to care for them.
  • 20% say someone in the family has taken on a second job.

Overall, 30% of respondents said they were now in £1,500 or more worth of debt due to their health. Of course, all this comes as the DWP has failed to make benefits sufficient to keep people out of poverty.

The DWP: failing chronically ill people

As the Canary has documented, for years the DWP either froze benefits rates, or failed to make them enough to cover the rising cost of everything. Think tank the Institute for Fiscal Studies said that for Universal Credit and other benefits:

Compared with their pre-pandemic… levels, real benefit rates were 7.6% lower in 2022… and will be 6.2% lower in 2023… and still 2.0% lower in 2024

That is, the DWP is not giving chronically ill people enough money to live on. So, it is of little wonder that Lowell’s survey found so many people were struggling.

Being chronically ill in the UK is a perfect storm of state-sanctioned chaos. Often, the NHS fails to give people the support and treatment they need. Then, they can’t work. When they turn to the DWP, it fails to provide them with enough to live on. So, they then get into debt or their families have to work more.

A worsening situation

The situation is only projected to get worse. As the Health Foundation wrote:

9.1 million people in England are projected to be living with major illness by 2040, an increase of 2.5 million people compared to 2019.

Unless the government, the NHS, and other public bodies take action quickly, what Lowell found in its survey will end up being the tip of the iceberg.

Featured image via Horacio Olavarria – Unsplash

Support us and go ad-free

We know everyone is suffering under the Tories - but the Canary is a vital weapon in our fight back, and we need your support

The Canary Workers’ Co-op knows life is hard. The Tories are waging a class war against us we’re all having to fight. But like trade unions and community organising, truly independent working-class media is a vital weapon in our armoury.

The Canary doesn’t have the budget of the corporate media. In fact, our income is over 1,000 times less than the Guardian’s. What we do have is a radical agenda that disrupts power and amplifies marginalised communities. But we can only do this with our readers’ support.

So please, help us continue to spread messages of resistance and hope. Even the smallest donation would mean the world to us.

Support us
  • Show Comments
    1. The above article is very typical of the times, I’m afraid.
      But one thing which always puzzles me is when stats are mentioned and people are surveyed.
      I have never been asked to be surveyed. Never. I’m 56 and have been eligible to be surveyed for 38 years. So who are these people who are surveyed, cos it aint me!

    Leave a Reply

    Join the conversation

    Please read our comment moderation policy here.