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The Government’s War on Disabled People Never Ends

In 2016, the UN said austerity had led to 'systemic violations' of disabled people's rights. Now spiralling costs are pushing more disabled people into poverty – and with plans for new spending cuts, the Tories are doubling down.

According to a Scope report published in 2019, a disabled person faces average extra costs of £583 per month compared with an equivalent non-disabled person. (Getty Images)

In the winter of 2019-20, cold homes were the cause of 8,500 excess winter deaths. This winter, that number could be a splash in the ocean.

Tory policies and gross economic mismanagement have left millions of us facing destitution. Not only do we face a fuel price crisis, but food prices continue to rise weekly. As well as the so-called ordinary working people being hit by these crises, huge numbers of non-working people—disabled people, retired people, single and non-working parents, and people with long-term chronic illnesses, to name a few—face not only a choice between heating and eating but, in too many cases, a struggle amounting to life or death.

According to a Scope report published in 2019, a disabled person faces average extra costs of £583 per month compared with an equivalent non-disabled person. One in five faces additional costs of more than £1,000 per month. New research published by the same charity in March 2022 highlights that among the poorest fifth of households, disabled households allocate almost twice as much of their expenditure to electricity, gas, and fuels compared to those in the richest fifth of households. They are also more than twice as likely to have a cold house, and three times as likely to not be able to afford food as a result of their energy-use requirements.

Already, disabled people are financially penalised simply for being disabled and in need of social care provision. Disabled people are left with a Minimum Income Guarantee (MIG) of just £156 a week, which had not risen since 2015 until this year, when it was increased by around 3%. Today, inflation is more than 11%.

Further, since the Care Act was introduced in 2014, those in receipt of Personal Independence Payments (PIP), Disability Living Allowance (DLA), or Attendance Allowance (AA)—payments that are supposed to be made to help meet the additional costs of being disabled, like needing extra heating or a specialist diet—have these payments taken away from them by local authorities as part payment for their care charges.

Disabled people frequently have higher energy usage than non-disabled people. Many have essential equipment they need in order to survive, without which they could face risk of serious harm. That equipment includes kidney dialysis machines, CPAP and BiPAP machines which aid breathing, oxygen, wheelchairs, hoists, through-floor or stair lifts, nebulisers, speech recognition technology, and fridges to store insulin and other medications for other impairments—items which often consume large amounts of electricity. I’m sure at least some of you remember the tragic and avoidable death of diabetic ex-soldier David Clapson, who lost his life because he couldn’t afford to run his fridge and keep his insulin safely.

Kidney patients are just one example. Kidney Care UK has warned about hikes in the costs of running machines, which already cost hundreds of pounds a month. On top of that, many kidney patients are anaemic, and therefore feel the cold more than non-disabled people—meaning higher fuel costs yet again.

For others, being at home much of the time or confined to bed means their fuel needs are much higher than those of a non-disabled person. Those with high support needs who require live-in or overnight social care are also facing additional financial penalties, since they have to pay the costs of a care worker using fuel, too.

Lack of heating can increase pain for many disabled people and cause agonising spasticity and reduced mobility. A cold home can also worsen respiratory and cardio-vascular diseases—even the symptoms of dementia.

Yet another major problem arises when one considers rising fuel costs for care homes and hospices. Small and medium sized care homes have previously warned about rises of between 500 and 1,000 percent on their fuel costs, which could lead to mass care home closures, and to some of those with the greatest need for support becoming homeless. Hospices too have said they face a cumulative £2 million a day increase in fuel charges, with the horrific impact on end of life care that would engender.

For years, according to Joseph Rowntree Foundation data, around a third of disabled people have lived in poverty. Large numbers of disabled people in receipt of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) never received the £20 uplift during the Covid pandemic; apparently government computers were unable to process such an update. That meant they were left often living on a mere £74 a week. Could you afford £2,500-a-year fuel costs on such a miserly income?

In an effort to manage bills, some disabled people will doubtless seek to reduce their equipment usage over the coming months, which could have fatal consequences. The ‘alternative’ ways to keep warm touted by cynical energy companies are often unsuitable for disabled people: not everyone can exercise, and for some, wearing extra clothes prevents the use of hands and arms. If you have difficulty moving, problems can also arise with electric blankets, hot water bottles, and heat pads. There’s no stand-in for a warm home.

Others will seek to reduce their other expenditure—for example, on food—to try to keep costs down. As one of DPAC’s supporters told us recently:

‘I usually just eat once a day, but it’s very rarely ever a proper meal, and usually less than a small child’s meal. But if I’m managing to pay my energy DD and care contribution, nothing else seems to matter. Like so many others, I no longer have a life—it’s just an existence.’

Disabled people have already endured twelve years of austerity, with social security payments and the Minimum Income Guarantee, for those in receipt of social care, failing to rise with inflation. Pensioners, too, have lost the slim security of the triple lock on their incomes. We can’t face further ‘spending discipline’, whatever that actually means in plain English. Already many disabled people face an ongoing choice between heating, eating, and getting the care they need. There’s simply nothing left to cut.

The only real response to this years-long attack is a united movement to fight back against the turmoil the government has created. Enough is enough—not just for working people, but for all of us.