Cancer accounts for almost three out of 10 (29%) long-term sickness claims paid in the past year, according to figures released by Unum.
Almost a quarter (24%) of claims were paid to somebody under the age of 40, with 34% paid to those in their 50s. More than half (57%) of claims were made by men.
John Letizia, head of public affairs at Unum, told HR magazine that the age breakdown was one of the most surprising statistics. “You tend to think of income protection or any type of insurance as being for elderly people, or experienced workers,” he said. “You don’t really think of people under 40 going off sick or needing to claim income protection. That was a big surprise for us.”
“Income protection is one of the areas where we think there needs to be a much wider debate,” he added.
Unum’s findings follow work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith’s keynote speech on work, health, and disability, in which he said that the “sickness benefit culture” is in need of reform. “Too many businesses do not pay any attention to the health condition of an employee who has fallen ill – or make any attempt to understand what the problem is,” he said.
“Too often, even early on, no-one at work maintains regular contact with them. And after successive sick notes their original condition then gets worse. An opportunity to keep the prospect of a return to work within sight is lost. Instead they move onto sick pay, and then at some point are left to cascade onto sickness benefit. This has become a damaging cycle that affects everyone.
“Employers need to recognise the importance of staying in touch with their staff when they get sick – and of providing early support to someone to stay in work or get back to work."
Fran Woodard, England's director of policy and research at Macmillan Cancer Support, said that any changes to the benefits system must properly recognise the support that people need when they are ill.
“A cancer diagnosis can often be financially crippling and hit someone when they are at their most vulnerable," she said. “Many will face additional costs or have to give up work to undergo gruelling cancer treatment. It is imperative that people with cancer only return to work when they are able to do so and have the correct support in place.”
The Unum data comes from the organisation’s first annual claims statement, covering claims paid between 1 August 2014 and 31 July 2015 where employees became too unwell to work for six months or more.