The cost-of-living crisis will be a “matter of survival” for disabled people 

With one in five working-age people in Britain classed as disabled - a figure rising, according to official government statistics, driven by increased numbers reporting mental health conditions - the implications are serious both on an individual level, and in the national picture.

Source > Nottingham Post

By Ben Cooper

14 May 2022 04:00

The rising cost of living is weighing heavily on everyone’s minds. The most basic things in life – heating, eating, travelling to work – are getting more expensive.

For many though, these costs are only one side of the coin. For people living with disabilities, simply to make it through the day, or to have any kind of independence, is a costly and increasingly anxious struggle.

Mobility scooters need charging. Stairlifts require lots of electricity. Home-based medical equipment can be extremely energy-intensive. Cheap forms of public transport are often out of the question. And reduced mobility can make it harder to shop around for cheap food options.

Nottingham-based Guardian journalist, author and disabled rights campaigner Dr Frances Ryan, herself living with a disability, explains.

She says: “Disabled people often use more energy than the wider public. People who are less mobile or in pain can need extra heating. You might need extra electricity to charge medical equipment like a wheelchair.

“The pandemic has exacerbated this for many, with clinically vulnerable people spending more time at home. Even food costs can be higher. If you’re chronically ill, you can’t go round multiple shops for the cheapest deal. You might need an expensive specialist diet.

“Put all this together and the cost of living crisis is going to be a matter of survival for some disabled people. I’ve already heard from families with disabled children who are cutting back on food in order to charge their children’s ventilators.”

With one in five working-age people in Britain classed as disabled – a figure rising, according to official government statistics, driven by increased numbers reporting mental health conditions – the implications are serious both on an individual level, and in the national picture.

Liz Silver is the vice-chair of Nottinghamshire Disabled People’s Movement (NDPM), which campaigns on behalf of people in the county living with disabilities.

She says: “Cost of living is affecting everyone on lower incomes, but for people with disability it’s disproportionate.

“There are people who really feel the cold, and they take hours to warm up again. Their flat has got to be kept warm all the time. We’ve got members who need to use their own transport; some people can’t get on a bike or scooter, they need their own transport.

“There might be people on special diets, who might have to spend more being careful of what food they buy. You don’t have the choice of the cheapest food. You can’t afford to buy something that’s going to flare up your condition.”

In 2019 disability equality charity Scope produced the Disability Price Tag report which laid out just how much more – back then – disabled people, or their carers, had to pay than those without disabilities.

The harsh facts speak for themselves.

On average, the report revealed, a disabled person in 2019 faced an extra £583 per month in basic costs, with one in five managing costs of over £1000 more than people not living with a disability.

Of families with a disabled child, this figure was even higher – 24% at the time were grappling with extra costs of £1000 or more per month.

Scope policy manager Tom Marsland says that already disabled people are being forced into impossible dilemmas, such as between heating their homes and charging necessary medical equipment, and that as the year goes on and prices rise, this is likely to get even tougher.

He says: “Rising energy prices are having a devastating impact on disabled people. Life already costs more for disabled people, who are being hit by the biggest cost of living crisis in a generation.

“Rising costs will force thousands of disabled people to make impossible choices about living costs and force thousands of people into poverty.”

Scope, which urges anyone with concerns to contact them via a free telephone advice service or visit their website for advice, has also studied the particular impacts of cost-of-living pressures on people in the East Midlands.

An Opinium Research survey carried out in January this year and published by Scope shows that for 43% of people in the region living with a disability, rising costs have actually worsened their medical condition. Half of those questioned said that increasing cost pressures have damaged their mental health as well.

And perhaps most concerning of all on a wider scale, if fuel costs continue to rise and take average household energy bills to a predicted £3,000 per year, 2.1 million households where a person is disabled will be living fuel poverty – compared to 900,000 today.

Scope, NDPM, Dr Ryan, and a wide range of organisations campaigning locally and nationally are all agreed that more needs to be done to support disability equality, and more generally for all people struggling to make ends meet.

What form this should take is complex – it requires, they say, uplifts in a variety of disability support payments, (Personal Independence Payments) PIP, and Universal Credit, as well as measures to cap energy prices for all people struggling.

It also requires, says NDPM committee member Lorraine Salt-Pulford, a greater understanding, both at a local and national government level, of the unique costs of living with a disability.

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