The War on Disabled People Just Got Worse

After the cruelty of austerity and Covid, the Tories have now hit disabled people with the biggest fall in social security payments ever recorded. It's a national scandal – and it’s time to fight back.

The energy price increase hits older and disabled people in specific ways. (Ivan Balvan / Getty Images)

Britain’s social security payments are already some of the lowest in Europe. Amid a catastrophic cost of living crisis, they rose in April by a mere 3%. Inflation has already reached 7%, and is set to rise still further in the near future. This kind of abysmal mismanagement by the Tories will not only have a detrimental impact on all but the super-rich, but will, DPAC believe, lead to many more deaths through lack of heating, malnutrition, poverty, debt, and destitution.

As a WASPI woman, I have already been robbed of almost seven years of my retirement pension. The meagre amount I now receive has risen by a mere £4 a month. I am not alone in facing such an inadequate increase in income.

Last October, to his shame, the millionaire Tory Chancellor presided over the biggest fall in social security payments ever recorded in the form of the removal of the £20 Universal Credit uplift. For a single person under 25, this meant a drop in weekly income from £79 a week to just £59 a week. For a couple both aged over 25, income dropped from £137 to a mere £117 a week.

However, many disabled people still in receipt of legacy benefits, including Employment and Support Allowance, never received this uplift during the pandemic in the first place, despite their essential living costs rising and many facing increasing debts. While there’s now talk of older and disabled people and others in poverty having to choose between heating and eating, austerity meant this has already been the reality for plenty for almost 12 years. Many have no idea how they can cut costs even further, let alone how they can afford a 54% hike in fuel prices.

The advice given by SSE—that customers keep their heating bills low by having a cuddle with their pets, eating a hearty bowl of porridge, or doing a few star jumps—is more than just insulting. The Big Six energy companies managed to rake in over £1 billion in profits last year according to Ofgem’s analysis, and their CEOs earn millions: Alistair Phillips-Davies, CEO of SSE, made £1.6 million in the first year of the pandemic, according to a report by the High Pay Centre.

Meanwhile, the energy price increase hits older and disabled people in specific ways. These groups are often forced to spend much of their time at home—due either to their impairments or to the lack of social care needed to support them to go out and take part in the community—which makes more heating vital. For those with a range of conditions which leave them in severe and enduring pain, sufficient heating is one of the few things that helps to alleviate the agony they suffer. Wrapping up in blankets, wearing hats, or using hot water bottles simply doesn’t help in the same way as being able to afford a warm home.

As well as ‘normal’ fuel usage, many also have the additional costs of specialist equipment like wheelchairs, hoists, machines to help with breathing, and oxygen, all of which have to be met from inadequate social security levels. Some disabled people already face fuel bills of £1,000 per quarter.

Things Need to Change

On top of the horrific hikes in fuel, food, and other costs, up to 300,000 disabled people in receipt of Personal Independence Payments, Disability Living Allowance, and Attendance Allowance will soon no longer be able to claim the Warm Front Discount because the government is changing the eligibility criteria. For those most in need of support to pay their bills, which are now skyrocketing, this is yet another slap in the face.

Another source of poverty faced by older and disabled people who need social care is councils’ care charging policies (with the notable exceptions of Hammersmith and Fulham), which leave disabled people over 25 with a Minimum Income Guarantee of just £153 a week. That Minimum Income Guarantee hasn’t increased since 2015, and has fallen further and further behind the rates of inflation over the years.

Councils in England and Wales charge for social care that those who use it cannot do without, leaving them with even less to pay for fuel and food. Most now take most or all of the Personal Independence, Disability Living Allowance, and Attendance Allowance payments that disabled people are given supposedly to meet the extra costs of being disabled; most also take some disability payments. People who need the most support, including overnight care, pay the most. Those disabled people on Universal Credit who needed social care support were given the £20 uplift by government only to have it removed by in care charges.

In light of all these factors, DPAC has called for a £20 increase in all social security payments, which we believe people need to survive. Those living on or below the breadline tend to spend any extra income they receive, to the benefit of the economy; it’s only the rich who hoard their money, and usually in offshore tax havens—meaning they don’t contribute to the nation’s wealth in any useful way.

We’ve seen some people suggest a boycott of paying the super inflated fuel prices, particularly as the French government has capped fuel price rises to 4%. But the consequences of that for disabled and older people is frightening, so instead, we’re supporting the #BigPowerOff campaign initiated by Sheffield DPAC, one of our local groups. The campaign involves switching off your power for ten minutes on specific days, which could, we’re informed, lead to an up to £9 million loss to the power companies. This will be happening nightly at 8pm for 10 minutes from 22 April onward. It’s something most but not all disabled and other people can do simply from home.

We’re also calling on the government to urgently impose an energy cap increase similar to the French and other European governments, and, crucially, for an immediate end to charging for social care. Like the NHS, social care support must be free at the point of need, and paid for out of general taxation.

There are vital steps the government can take now to alleviate the suffering it has imposed on older and disabled people. Doing nothing is not an inevitability—it’s a choice, and one those in power could change at any moment.