Disabled people facing ‘impossible choices to survive’ in cost of living crisis
Charities urge chancellor to use spring statement to offer support as energy and food costs rise
Disabled people will face “impossible choices in order to survive” amid a perfect storm of soaring energy prices, increasing fuel and food costs and cuts to government support, charities have warned.
As the UK steadies itself for a rise in energy bills next month at the same time as state benefits are cut in real terms, leading disability and poverty charities including Scope, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), Leonard Cheshire, and the MS Society have said that disabled people and their families will be put under severe financial pressure.
They warn that disabled people could be pushed to use food banks and unwashed soiled clothes in order to prioritise keeping lifesaving medical equipment such as ventilators running, as well as other vital goods. Disabled people typically have higher energy needs than the wider public, while being more likely to be in poverty.
Una Summerson, head of policy at disability charity Contact, said: “Some disabled children need life-saving equipment that is powered by electricity to survive such as ventilators and feeding pumps. Electric wheelchairs, stair lifts and extra washing due to continence issues can’t be cut back on either; they are essential to quality and safety of life. So disabled households are going to face impossible choices … We have huge concerns how families are going to cope.”
To care for their eight-year-old daughter with cerebral palsy, Dan McEvoy and his partner need to charge a dozen types of equipment each day: from a BiPAP ventilator, oxygen concentrators, a moveable bed, hoists, a SATS machine, to a feed pump. “Our electricity bill is due to rise £309 a year, and that includes some subsidies that we receive,” he says. “We’ll sacrifice food and heating to keep our daughter safe and healthy.”
Charities are urging the chancellor to use the upcoming spring statement to introduce support for disabled people to survive the cost of living crisis. There is concern that the government are planning to bar over 200,000 people on disability benefits from claiming discounts to heat their homes, in a move that the poverty charity Turn2Us warn could push many disabled people into “extreme hardship” when combined with rising prices and other funding cuts.
Thomas Cave, policy and public affairs manager at Turn2us, said: “Millions of people across the UK are facing a tight squeeze on their incomes as the cost-of-living continues to soar. But for disabled people who already experience additional living costs, the impending rise to energy prices could push many into extreme hardship.
“We worry that disabled people will undoubtedly face impossible choices in order to survive as they contend with a perfect storm of rising energy prices, increasing fuel and food costs, and a real-terms cut to benefit levels in April. This is on top of a potential removal of the Warm Home Discount for people on disability benefits. We need urgent action to stop this cut to benefits, just when disabled people need support most.”
Helen Walker, chief executive of Carers UK, said they were seeing “unprecedented” financial worries from unpaid carers and those they care for.
“Many already face additional costs which they have to cover themselves, from specialist, life-saving equipment for someone who needs it to extra care costs. In our latest survey of 3,300 carers, 42% thought that in the coming months they would not be able to heat their home to a safe level and 32% are worried they will have to use a food bank … Thousands more are being pushed into poverty that will have a lasting impact on their finances and quality of life.”
James Taylor, director of strategy at Scope, stressed that many disabled people were already struggling: “Right now there are disabled people – whose condition means they need to keep warm – having only one meal a day. Others, go without so their children can eat, live in a damp house, or wake up cold and go to bed early. Our energy hotline and website have been inundated by disabled people facing impossible choices, with nowhere else to turn.”
Becky Whinnerah’s 11-year-old daughter is doubly incontinent but rising energy bills means she can’t afford to dry laundry on rainy days to keep her clean. Whinnerah has three children – two have physical and learning disabilities – and plans to “slash” the family’s food bill and stop putting the heating on to get through the coming months. “We only have debt, no savings,” she said. “I’m terrified we’ll lose everything.”
A government spokesperson said: “We recognise the pressures people are facing with the cost of living, which is why we have set out a £21bn package of support, including a £150 council tax rebate and a further £200 energy bill discount. The energy price cap also continues to insulate millions of customers from volatile global gas prices.
“In addition, we know that living with a long-term illness or disability can impact on living costs and we’ve made extra financial support available to those with disabilities, or those who care for them, through personal independence payment (PIP), employment support allowance (ESA) and carer’s allowance.”