For the first time in a long time, many people will have woken up to a frost this week – and will have turned the central heating on without a second thought. But for some people with learning disabilities, that isn’t an option.
In fact, some people with learning disabilities, their families and carers will have greeted the frost with trepidation; with the fear that this may be the beginning of another winter like the last one. If it is as bad – and the long-range forecasts have predicted that it might be – it could put people into major financial difficulties and for some it will be a choice of heating or eating.
Those at greatest risk are the people with learning disabilities and their family/carers who have a fixed income – generally what they receive in benefits – and who have little chance of supplementing that.
With inflation running at 5.2% – boosted by rising gas and electricity prices – income does not stretch as far as it did even a few months ago. There are only so many cutbacks people can make in their lives and many have been cutting back for some time.
Some might say ‘get a job’ to increase income, but that is much easier said than done. Unemployment is rising – currently 2.57 million, the highest for 17 years – and competition for jobs is increasingly fierce. Also, people with learning disabilities often don’t compete on a level playing field.
For instance, disability discrimination is meant to have been outlawed but anecdotally still goes on – sometimes unwittingly – among employers. Sadly, it appears that little help will be forthcoming.
The government’s latest word on how to combat rising fuel costs – shop around for the best deal – is patronising at best. Otherwise, there is the annual ‘Keep Warm Keep Well’ campaign, which offers hints and tips on staying warm and healthy in winter and advice on applying for things like the Warm Front scheme that provides heating and insulation improvements. This helps to a point, but for many people with learning disabilities, the hope will be that the weather forecasters have got it wrong.