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People in Wales face higher risk of dying in poverty than any other UK nation

Cardiff, Newport and Blaenau Gwent council areas among those most at risk

In light of new research revealing that 6,600 people a year die in poverty in Wales end of life charity Marie Curie Cymru has called for ending poverty at the end of life to be a key priority for both  Westminster and Welsh Government.

The charity revealed the shocking statistics today in a new report based on research from Loughborough University. It found that people of working age who are terminally ill are at particularly high risk, with a third of this group dying in poverty, (30%), rising to more than a third (36%) in Cardiff.

This makes those who die at working age almost twice as likely to die in poverty than those who live past pension age, with 18.4 per cent of people over 65 dying in poverty The figures also put people in Wales at higher risk of dying in poverty than any of the other UK nations.

The charity say that having to reduce or give up work, combined with the added costs of living with a terminal illness, such as higher energy bills and paying for home adaptations and care, all contribute to the likelihood of financial hardship amongst this group.

Healthcare assistant, Angela Owen, said: “As a Marie Curie nurse I am starting to notice the difference in the houses I visit. People can’t afford to leave the heating on all night, for our benefit, anymore. I now carry a blanket and a hot water bottle with me on shift, and the situation will only get worse I think.”

Alongside these research findings, Marie Curie is launching its Dying in Poverty campaign and petition, calling for a range of measures to help terminally ill people who are struggling with the cost of living at the end of their lives.

The charity has welcomed recent steps from Government to allow people with a terminal diagnosis of 12 months or less to get expedited access to benefits, but warned that these changes need implementing quickly, and that much more must be done in order to eradicate poverty at the end of life.

In Wales, the charity asks the Welsh Government, local authorities and employers to take urgent action to support people diagnosed with a terminal condition, including increasing awareness of and support to claim key benefits and support with fuel poverty, supporting people to continue working if they are able and wish to, and support with childcare costs for those with dependants.

Marie Curie is also calling for people across the UK to get early access to their State Pension, saying that the benefits system for working age people who are dying fails to protect them from falling below the poverty line.

Natasha Wynne, Marie Curie Wales Policy and Research Manager, said:

“Thousands of people across Wales are reaching the end of their lives in poverty, unable to make the most of the time they have left because of unaffordable bills and a constant fear about making ends meet. The scale of those dying in poverty in Wales is simply unacceptable that 1 in 3 people of working age and almost a fifth of pensioners are in this position.

“While soaring energy bills and other household costs are impacting people from all walks of life, those with terminal illnesses are among the worst affected. They are unable to work as their health declines and they face a number of unique and inescapable costs as a result of their illness – including paying for home adaptations and travel for medical appointments. In far too many cases, all of this combines to create a perfect storm of misery and financial hardship for dying people.

“We need concrete solutions from both Westminster and the Welsh Government and we need them quickly. We want those diagnosed with a terminal illness to have a better quality of life in the time they have left. It’s an appalling indictment of our society if we sit back and do nothing to address this.”

Across Wales, in 2019, the City and County of Cardiff council area had the highest proportion of both working age people and pensioners who experienced poverty in their last year of life (36% working age people died in poverty and 23% pensioners died in poverty), followed by other council areas; Newport (33% and 21%) and Blaenau Gwent (33% and 20%).

Juliet Stone, from the Centre for Research in Social Policy at Loughborough University, says:

“Our research, for the first time, not only tells us how many people die in poverty but shines a light on who these people are, where they live in the UK and the triggers, such as terminal illness, which force them below the poverty line. We are proud of this work but the findings break my heart.

“Everyone who has received a bill, filled up their car or done the weekly shop knows the cost of living is high and rising. For people with terminal illness the challenges ahead, both physically and financially, are unimaginable. The numbers in our research are almost certainly worse now and will only get higher in the coming months as the cost of living crisis deepens.”