By Daniel Hunter

Today (Wednesday), research reveals over half a million (560,000) people with cancer are currently in the workforce, contributing £16 billion each year to the economy: more than the UK housebuilding industry. By 2030, with rising prevalence and survival rates, this number is set to rise to 1 million, with an economic contribution of £29 billion.

However the report, carried out by Oxford Economics in collaboration with Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centres and Unum, reveals for the first time that businesses are losing as many as 63,000 people living with cancer today who want to work, but are encountering barriers that prevent them because the right support isn’t in place for them or their employers.

The report found the reasons for barriers are complex, as despite business’ initial efforts to support people returning to work, relationships can quickly, and unintentionally, breakdown due to a lack of regular and meaningful communication and shared understanding from both sides. And consequently, the economy is missing out on £1.8 billion every year.

Businesses are suffering as a result. Cancer is currently costing firms £1.1 billion each year in lost productivity and £1.2 billion in hard costs, including the costs of absence management, recruitment and training replacement staff.

In addition, businesses are losing talent and, where employees don’t feel their company is looking after staff, feeling the negative impact of decreased morale on their bottom line. With the right support, businesses could help people with cancer who want to return to work to do so, whilst retaining valued staff and reducing costs.

In the UK, someone is diagnosed with cancer every two minutes, but with earlier diagnosis, more advanced treatments and better targeted drugs, more people are living well with cancer for longer — with survival rates doubling in the last 40 years. Businesses need to keep pace with the medical advances in the treatment of those with cancer.

Maggie’s and Unum are encouraging open and honest dialogue between people with cancer and their employers to help avoid these barriers and ensure the opportunities for both people living with cancer and their employers aren’t lost. If right support was in place, by 2030 an additional 136,000 people with cancer who want to work could, and they could contribute an additional £3.5bn to the UK economy.

Maggie’s offer free emotional, practical and social support to people with cancer and their families and friends, and Unum works with businesses and employees on Income Protection and industry-leading rehabilitation for people with long-term illnesses. Today they are pooling their expertise and launching a partnership to provide support to address the barriers facing both employers and people living with cancer through educational events and resources.

“Many people living with cancer aren’t able or don’t want to work after treatment, but for those who can and choose to, it can be vital to their psychological wellbeing," Lesley Howells, Maggie’s Lead of Research and Centre Head Dundee, said.

"People with cancer who use our centres tell us work can help build a sense of normality, structure, purpose and self-esteem. For these reasons, it’s vital that businesses provide the right support for an employee returning to work with cancer. This involves maintaining ongoing, meaningful communication and gaining and demonstrating better understanding.

"But businesses also need support — they are looking to the person with cancer to set the tone and need more guidance from them on what they need, as everyone’s experiences are different. Better communication between both parties and a carefully managed return to work is needed, and the partnership between Unum and Maggie’s will help ensure the right support is provided.”

The partnership between Maggie’s and Unum will begin with the first of a series of education events and resources aimed at employers, taking place in Maggie’s Centres throughout the country over the next year. The first of these takes place in London today, and will be attended by a number of leading businesses.

Joy Reymond, Head of Rehabilitation & Health Management Services at Unum, said: “Businesses want to do the right thing by their staff, but are often stumbling in the dark, without guidance. The role of the line manager too cannot be underestimated. The report shows they often have the biggest impact on someone’s experience of working with cancer because they are often the main contact the employee has with their employer. Our partnership with Maggie’s aims to give businesses the support they need, including ways they can educate staff at all levels to approach this in the right way.”

Dr. Tyna Taskila, Senior Researcher at the Work Foundation, said: “Businesses need to wise up to the fact that return to work is now a realistic outcome for many people with cancer and make sure they have the right framework in place to help them. Many people still struggle to remain in the workplace after cancer and are at higher risk of early retirement, but businesses can play a key role in supporting them to stay in work. This support does not need to be costly — just maintaining contact between people with cancer and their line-managers or colleagues during treatment can have a positive impact. At policy-level, businesses need to allow more flexibility for people returning to work after treatment, for example, by introducing a more gradual return to work programme.”

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