Rising bills having ‘catastrophic impact’ on disabled people

  • There is some support for rising bills, but for many it isn't enough - as Social Affairs Correspondent Sarah Corker reports

New research by charity Leonard Cheshire has found many disabled people are struggling to pay for the basics – with potentially "catastrophic" consequences.

A quarter of those surveyed said they have missed a meal because they couldn't afford it.

28% had not been able to afford to heat their home and seven per cent said they have less than £10 a week for essentials like food, after paying for housing and bills.

In Stoke on Trent, Jo has watched with horror as her energy bills have almost tripled. The 50-year-old can’t work because of her mobility issues and suffers from depression and anxiety.

Her husband, Mark, who is 51, is her full-time carer and helps to look after their eight-year-old daughter.

In April, their gas and electric bills jumped from £97 a month to £297, as the energy price cap was revised and increased by Ofgem, affecting millions of UK households.

'It's almost impossible now... I don't leave the house'

“To expect someone to make that leap when there is no additional income coming in, it’s laughable if it wasn’t so depressing,” Jo told me.

The family-of-three has fallen behind on payments and is now being chased by debt collectors.

“To have companies hounding you, I’ve got debt collectors coming after me - apart from selling everything I have, there’s no money. I can’t save.

“I don’t have rainy day fund. There is no part of my life where I am not being squeezed for money.

“I don’t know how I am going to pay my bills, and I’ve never been in this situation before. It’s horrible and I feel humiliated and embarrassed.”

Heating their Staffordshire home isn’t the only concern, Jo’s welfare payments aren’t keeping up with the spiralling cost of living, while her husband’s carers allowance isn’t going as far as it used to.

Benefits and pensions increased by 3.1% this month. In normal times that would be a decent rise but these are exceptional circumstances; inflation is already running at 7% and it’s expected to surge further in the months ahead.

“I have no quality of life. I’m stuck in the house because we can’t afford the petrol to go anywhere. I haven’t seen my mum for three years. The stress and anxiety is unbelievable,” Jo said.

“Where do I get money from when I can’t cut back om anything else?”

Research by Leonard Cheshire suggests the poverty rate among working age disabled adults is almost twice as high as non-disabled working age adults.

Ruth Owen, the charity’s CEO, asked: "How can anyone manage a weekly shop with £10? Many disabled people face impossible choices and are living day-by-day on a financial knife edge. The government needs to recognise this and urgently act to avoid a desperate situation becoming a catastrophe.

“Distressingly, the situation is deteriorating. The cost-of-living crisis is pushing more and more disabled people to despair and into poverty.”

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The reality is life costs more if you are disabled. You can’t just switch off essential medical equipment to save on energy bills.

Transport costs are often higher due to a reliance on taxis or specially-adapted vehicles.

For many, working full time is not an option and that severely restricts earning power. Others are locked out of employment because of caring responsibilities.

In London, Amrit Dhaliwal has been searching for a job for years. She’s blind and has a condition that affects her joints. That means she is susceptible to the cold and needs to use more heating.

“It's due to my connective tissue disorder, it means that I feel the cold a lot, so it's really vital for me that I use hot water at all times, even in the summer. I have to have the heating on quite a few hours to feel warm,” she said.

Amrit says she’s had a “long and disappointing employment journey” due to disability discrimination and a lack of accessible options.

'Being disabled, I have a lot of extra expenditure'

She lives in Hounslow, west London with her husband and two teenage children. After housing and insurance payments, the family is left with around £100 per week.

“We are worried about how our finances are going to be impacted going forward, because being disabled I have a lot of extra expenditure and that is on top of all the normal cost of living that we're going to have, such as paying the mortgage, insurance and bringing up two children.”

For many families, there is nothing left to cut back on. Energy bills are forecast to rise again in October and charities say targeted support is needed to help those already at crisis point.

Disabled people are eating cold food and washing in cold water to cope with financial pressures, while others are having to wear allergy masks inside as they cannot afford to run the air filters they need for their condition, according to charities.

A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “We know that living with a long-term illness or disability can impact on living costs and financial support is available to those with disabilities, or those who care for them.

“We urge people to check whether they are receiving all of the benefits to which they are entitled, and to be aware of the wider support this opens up, including help with transport, broadband or prescription costs.

“In addition, the government is taking decisive action to help more than 27 million households with rising energy costs, with a £200 reduction on bills this autumn, a £150 non-repayable reduction in Council Tax bills and our £1 billion household support fund is helping the most vulnerable with essential costs.”