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Social Justice

‘Using less energy isn’t an option’: Disabled people set to be hit hardest when bills soar again

Rising energy bills, additional costs, and poor social care capacity are causing a compounded crisis for disabled people.

Millions of disabled people will be “hardest hit” by the cost of living crisis in the coming months, charities have warned, as calls grow for Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak to commit to more support.

On Tuesday consultancy firm Cornwall Insight said energy bills could hit a staggering £4,266 from January, while new figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show around four in 10 disabled people have cut their spending on food and essentials. 

“The impact of these massive price cap hikes will be horrific,” said Tom Marsland, policy manager at disability equality charity Scope. “Many disabled people are already forced to commit a large amount of their income to energy costs.” 

The charity estimates that monthly bills and costs are almost £600 higher for disabled people, while only 52 per cent of disabled people are employed, compared to 81 per cent of non-disabled people.

“For some disabled people, energy is needed to run health, medical or mobility equipment, so using less isn’t an option,” said Fazilet Hadi, the head of policy at Disability Rights UK. “This is exposing some disabled people to extremely high energy bills.

“Millions of disabled people are already experiencing huge pressures in getting by, which are only set to worsen as autumn and winter approach.”

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Before the energy price cap increases in January, it will also go up in October to an estimated £3,359. 

Tory leadership candidates Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak are being urged to lay out concrete plans on whether they will provide additional financial support if they are elected, and what this support will look like.

Over the weekend, Truss said she wouldn’t be giving out more “handouts” to tackle the crisis, but rowed back on that slightly days later by saying she would “look at the information”. Sunak said that he would provide more financial support for struggling households, but did not clarify what this would include.

Last month, people on means-tested benefits began to receive their £650 cost of living support payment. In September, disabled people will receive an additional £150 payment.

However, Boris Johnson on Monday said he would not be announcing any further support following calls for an emergency budget from former PM Gordon Brown as part of his Big Issue-backed campaign calling for action.

“Our Disability Energy Support service has been inundated by disabled people in crisis with nowhere else to turn,” said Marsland.

“We simply can’t wait until November for announced government support to kick in, it needs to happen now. And that has to be backed up with a further support package that reflects the sheer scale of the issue facing disabled people.”

Richard Kramer, chief executive at disability charity Sense, said that its research had found that more than half of disabled people are in debt, while a third are already skipping meals.

Kramer described this as a “desperate everyday reality” facing disabled people. “Disabled households are in debt and facing impossible decisions such as whether to eat or heat the home,” he said.

“The costs disabled people and families face are not luxuries that can be cut, and ‘improved household budgeting’ will not solve the problem. Disabled people and carers need long-term financial support,” he said.

Sense, alongside a group of 50 other charities supporting people with disabilities, sent a joint letter to Truss and Sunak two weeks ago, calling for increased financial support for disabled people.

“Recent steps to support disabled children and adults have been welcome, but they are short term solutions for a long-term issue,” the letter reads. “With over 14 million disabled people living in the UK today this isn’t something that can be ignored.  We hope that you will personally commit to tackling the inequalities that disabled children, adults and their families face.”

However, the charities are yet to hear back from the two leadership contenders.

It isn’t just disabled people themselves who are facing the immense pressures of the cost of living crisis, as their families are often affected too.

Amanda Batten, the CEO at Contact, a charity which supports families with disabled children, said that the families it supports feel the support offered by the government so far is a “drop in the ocean”.

“Our helpline is hearing from increasingly desperate families trying to manage their household bills and prepare for the next energy price hike,” she said.

According to Scope, families of disabled children deal with additional costs amounting to around £581 a month.

“For this reason, Contact wants the next Prime Minister to introduce a disabled child energy assistance payment this winter and increase child disability payment under Universal Credit.”

Even outside of the cost of living crisis the months ahead could be challenging for disabled people, particularly those who receive social care, as the sector battles an ongoing capacity crisis.

Kramer, said that the financial crisis was compounded by cuts in spending on social services.

“With social care services cut, many families already struggle to get the support they need and feel there’s no way out of their financial situation,” he said.

Last month, NHS leaders said that the lack of capacity in social care was “putting the care and safety of patients at risk”.

Nine in ten NHS leaders said that the capacity crisis is likely to worsen during the winter. 

Gemma Hope, the director of policy at Leonard Cheshire, said that in addition to the cost of living crisis, the “dangerously under-resourced” social care system is leaving disabled people “unable to access the most basic care.”

“And still, sadly, in the current leadership race social care doesn’t seem to be on the agenda,” Hope said. “We need to see this issue being taken seriously by the next Prime Minister, along with a feasible plan for tackling this crisis with sufficient funding.

“Because this problem is not going away – and we cannot wait any longer.”

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