Learning Disability Today
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Disability charities have criticised the government for failing to provide adequate support for people with disabilities amid the cost of living crisis.
Over the last few weeks, the government has announced a series of measures designed to ease financial pressures. This includes the energy price cap, a one-off £400 fuel bill discount, and a series of tax cuts, announced by the new chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, in his so-called mini-budget.
Unfortunately, disability charities say the new measures do not provide enough support for people with disabilities, who have been disproportionately affected by energy price rises.
Since many disabled people rely on specialist equipment, such as electric wheelchairs, stair lifts, bath seats, ventilators and electric pumps, they often use more energy than typical households.
Using or charging such equipment is vital to fulfilling disabled people’s basic needs, such as eating, drinking, breathing and getting around. As energy prices have risen, many disabled households have been pushed into fuel poverty.
Indeed, Disability Action, a charity supporting disabled people, says that thanks to the rising cost of energy, many of its members are having to choose between ‘eating or breathing’.
The government has recognised that disabled people’s energy bills are likely to be higher than typical households. To combat this, they are offering a one-off ‘Cost of Living Payment’ of £150 to six million disabled people.
The new Prime Minister, Liz Truss, hopes this payment, alongside the £400 fuel bill discount (available to all) and the energy price cap will help to ease financial pressures that disabled people may face.
However, the disability charity Scope says that even with these measures, many disabled people will be in fuel poverty this winter.
This is partly because the energy price cap does not actually cap your monthly utility bill costs. Instead, it caps the how much you pay for each unit of electricity you use. This means that the more you use, the more expensive your bill will be. There’s no limit on how much it may cost.
Many disabled people cannot live without certain equipment, such as ventilators and electric pumps for tube feeding. If they cannot afford to run this equipment, they may not survive through the winter.
In an open letter to the government, the Disability Poverty Campaign Group (DPCG) urges the government to provide greater financial support for disabled people.
They say that disabled people are already rationing how often they use oxygen concentrators and turning off the heating—even in cases where the person is unable to regulate their own body temperature. “These forced choices will have catastrophic consequences,” they letter states.
The DCPG remind the Prime Minister, Liz Truss, that around half of households in poverty have at least one disabled member. Indeed, even before April’s increase in the energy price cap, disabled people made up 62% of those using Trussell Trust food banks, 60% of those asking Citizens Advice for help with fuel bills, and more than 600,000 disabled people in the UK were recently estimated to have £10 or less per week to pay for food and other costs.
Furthermore, the charity points out that since the government recently changed the eligibility criteria for the Warm Home Discount, many disabled people not in receipt of means-tested benefits are not set to see any actual gain from the £150 one-off payment.
They therefore argue that the current package of measures does not go far enough. To ensure that people with disabilities have the means necessary to live comfortably throughout the winter months, the DPCG is calling on the government to:
The DCPG would also like the government to engage with organisations that are led by disabled people to ensure that it has a full understanding of the type of support that is required.
Mencap is similarly calling for additional support for people with learning disabilities. The charity is similarly urging the government to boost Universal Credit and other benefits, as well as freezing bills and getting the energy price cap under control.
The charity says it is important that people with learning disabilities receive extra support because disabled people typically face extra costs of up to £583 a month. These costs could be even higher for those who do not have family members on-hand to provide support and care.
Indeed, some pay 40% of their income from benefits to councils through social care charging, so that they can receive the care and support that they need.
These issues are compounded by the fact that just 5.1% of people with learning disabilities known to adult social care are in work. This leaves the majority of people with learning disabilities completely reliant on benefits, which often barely covers the essential costs of living.
Edel Harris OBE, Chief Executive of Mencap, said: “The Government support offered doesn’t go far enough for people with a learning disability, their families and carers, as they struggle to cope with the pressures of this crisis. How will people with a learning disability be able to afford the increase in bills? Will social security payments be uprated in line with inflation so people with a learning disability don’t have to choose between food and heating, when for many, options to increase income through employment are not a possibility? What additional support will social care providers be given to see the sector through this winter, when tackling a workforce crisis and raised energy bills?
“We need urgent clarity on these questions to provide certainty to those with a learning disability and their families. Anxiety is high. The Government needs to take further action to make sure they aren’t priced out and forgotten.”
Campaigners have also created a petition calling on the government to make disabled people eligible for the £650 one-off payment that has been announced for carers. So far, the petition has around 22,000 signatures.
In response, the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) has said that many disabled people will be eligible for both the £150 Disability Cost of Living Payment and the £650 Cost of Living Payment. However, the £650 payment is only for those people in receipt of a qualifying means-tested benefit. The Government says they will not change these qualifying criteria.
The Department says that the Disability Cost of Living Payment “is just one element of the help for households”, and disabled pensioners will also benefit from the £300 increase in Winter Fuel Payments.
When it comes to supporting low-income households, which cannot increase their income through work, the DWP advise local authorities to “consider how they can support” these households, particularly people with disabilities and unpaid carers.
Carers UK has voiced its concerns about this lack of support, and has written an open letter to the government (signed by 72 organisations) calling for a targeted top up for those receiving Carer’s Allowance.
The letter states that many of those in receipt of Carer’s Allowance did not get the additional £20 a week that Universal Credit recipients received, along with carers in receipt of Income Support.
Similarly, around 386,000 carers were not prioritised for the £650 cost of living payment despite the additional costs of caring, while those who do not live with the person they care for also did not receive the £150 cost of living payment. This has left a specific groups of carers nearly £3,000 worse off compared to other recipients of social security.
Emily Holzhausen OBE, Director of Policy and Public Affairs at Carers UK, said: “Thousands of unpaid carers who do so much to support people in our communities are now facing an unprecedented emergency and urgently need the Chancellor’s help.
“While we welcome the Government’s announcement of an annual £2,500 energy price cap, this will still be a significant price hike for many. Some carers have no way of meeting the rising costs and face extremely difficult decisions that are keeping them up at night.
“We are urging the Chancellor to provide unpaid carers with targeted support, giving those with an entitlement to Carer’s Allowance or the Carer Element of Universal Credit a top up payment to help them meet the significant additional costs they’ll face throughout the winter.”
The cohort of organisations is also calling for Carer’s Allowance and Carer Element to be uprated in line with current levels of inflation, as soon as possible, to ensure that carers on low incomes can keep up with their bills.
Providing greater support for unpaid carers is supported by an overwhelming percentage of the public, with 84% agreeing that the government should do more to support for this group.
The letter states that it is now “vital” that cares – particularly those on low incomes or who rely on Carer’s Allowance and other legacy benefits – are immediately provided the financial security they desperately need.
“It is imperative that Government acts immediately to support carers and their families with the cost of living and recognises the value of their contribution,” the letter concludes.