After Gillian Sykes was diagnosed with breast cancer, she was shocked to find out just how difficult it was to get the government assistance she needed to survive. As the weeks dragged on and the bills piled up, she reached the point where she had only 84 pence to her name.
Sykes, 45, is a single mom of two kids who worked as a supply teacher up until the time of her diagnosis in January. Since her diagnosis, she has been going back and forth with the Department of Work and Pensions — the biggest public service department in the United Kingdom — about the benefits that are due to her.
What she’s had to go through is infuriating.
Sykes found a lump in her breast in December of 2018. She immediately assumed the worst, as she has a family history of breast cancer. Sadly, this year marks 20 years since she lost her mother to breast cancer.
She officially got her breast cancer diagnosis in January, and her treatment began in earnest. She has already begun losing her hair “in handfuls,” and she will be getting a mastectomy this summer.
However, the UK government has been painfully slow to catch up.
The Universal Credit is a new system that is combining six previously distinct benefit systems into one in the UK: income support, income-based jobseeker’s allowance, income-related employment and support allowance, housing benefit, child tax credit, and the working tax credit.
But the system isn’t working too well just yet.
Sykes wasn’t told what she did and did not qualify for. Once she discovered the benefits she was due, she still ended up fighting the department for weeks — all while undergoing grueling treatment.
“Two days after my first chemotherapy session, I was told I had to take my bank statements in to the job centre to prove that they had taken money from me that they shouldn’t have,” said Sykes.
Sykes was initially told she needed to be looking for work, even though she wasn’t able to due to her treatments and had had to quit a job she loved. Apparently, being told to find work was simply an “automated response” in the system, but Sykes wasn’t told that for some time.
“I’m having battles left, right and centre with Universal Credit – and issues with not being told what I can and can’t claim,” Sykes said.
Sykes has suffered from depression for years, but had it under control. Her struggle to make ends meet while undergoing treatments has been understandably hard on the single mom.
“I just feel like I’m fighting for survival with benefits, that I shouldn’t be fighting with right now. I’ve got enough stress,” she said.
It was a reporter from the Liverpool ECHO who actually ended up giving the government the push they needed to sort out Sykes benefits. They brought up her case with the Department of Work and Pensions on a Friday afternoon. Within less than four hours, Sykes was notified that she qualified for assistance. The next day, she was notified that she would be getting hundreds of pounds in backpay that the government owed her.
A spokesman from the DWP told the ECHO: “We have apologised to Gillian Sykes for the distress caused by this delay and are paying her full arrears.
“She has been placed in the long-term health condition group, meaning she receives a higher level of support and will not be required to seek work.
“We want to ensure that anyone with a health condition gets the support they need, which is why the Government is rolling out a recovery package to support people diagnosed with cancer and over 300,000 people will benefit every year by 2020.”
While Sykes is grateful to finally have the assistance she deserved, she’s disgusted that it took a reporter to finally get a response from the DWP.
See more from Sykes in this video.
C. Dixon likes to read, sing, eat, drink, write, and other verbs. She enjoys cavorting around the country to visit loved ones and experience new places, but especially likes to be at home with her husband, son, and dog.