Disabled woman 'sits in dirty clothes and washes less' due to soaring energy bills

Anne Vivian-Smith says her smart meter feels like her 'deadly enemy'

A disabled woman who uses a wheelchair has said she sits in dirty clothes more often and washes herself less in attempt to cut back on costs as her energy bills skyrocket.

Anne Vivian-Smith said she is having to cut back on appliance use as her and her partner's incomes have not been able to keep up with spiralling prices, driven by soaring inflation.

She worked as a specialist youth worker until a long-term disability meant she had to retire.

"You look on the smart meter, which is my deadly enemy, and to shower it shoots round into the red," Ms Vivian-Smith, who believes disabled people are "invisible victims" of "mismanagement" in the cost-of-living crisis, told ITV News.

"And my husband is not disabled so he can shower in three or four minutes, but I have to shower with two people helping me.

"So, I don't shower so often so I sit with a dirty body and dirty clothes. I don't like that."

Her comments come as a new report from the Resolution Foundation found that around two-fifths (41%) of disabled people said they could not afford to keep their home warm.

Almost half (48%) of disabled adults said they have had to cut back on energy use this winter, as have nearly a third (32%) of people without a disability.

The report combined statistical analysis with a new YouGov survey of just under 8,000 working-age adults, with more than 2,000 saying they have a long-term illness or a disability.

In an attempt to offset soaring prices, Ms Vivian-Smith, who lives in Nottingham, went on to say that her and her husband have started to "cook differently", limiting the use of their big oven, and using the washing machine less.

The 51-year-old also revealed how she is having to use her manual wheelchair - instead of her electric one - more regularly to help save money, causing her problems with her arms and shoulders.

Her husband said they would have to "take the hit" and turn on their heating during the cold snap last month, which saw Ms Vivian-Smith try to keep warm with blankets and a hot water bottle.

"My husband said 'look we are just going to have to take the hit and deal with the energy company then' because if we leave it the way that we are you are going to end up in hospital.

"So, the heating got turned on for that time."

Ms Vivian-Smith's husband turned on the heating during the cold snap as he was worried she could end up in hospital if it wasn't

Ms Vivian-Smith says she has needed more assistive equipment as her health has deteriorated, describing how she did not appreciate how much being cold would affect her "mood".

The way she changes chairs, for example, is to use a ceiling track hoist to take her into a powered wheelchair, or to a shower wheelchair she uses so she can wash herself.

These have batteries that have to be charged a lot and is among an array of equipment Ms Vivian-Smith needs to carry out daily functions.

She says going to the toilet in her electric toilet - which flushes for her - costs her 30p each time.

In one day in January, she says she panicked when she noticed her bill had risen from £82 to £150, before it later jumped again to £180 and then to over £300, which is where it has settled (for now).

"And there is no more money than there was in January. Our income certainly has not increased threefold," she told ITV News.

"And you stack that with other bills, admittedly the energy costs is the biggest - bigger than the food bill, its bigger than our rent."

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Research suggests the energy crisis has pushed more UK households on to prepayment gas and electricity meters.

Campaigners have warned that these customers are more likely to be vulnerable and at risk of being disconnected.

"The thing we are really worried about is the phenomena that Warm for Winter Campaign has identified is that people are being forced onto pre-payment metres," Ms Vivian-Smith said.

"When you have a smart meter that can be done just by a click of a mouse and that is something we are very frightened of happening - is being in debt... and then being forced to buy the most expensive type of electric to get out of debt."

She went on to say that many disabled people - especially those unable to leave their homes due to their conditions - are out of sight during the deepening cost-of-living crisis.

Ms Vivian-Smith said disabled people are not "even on the radar" let alone active participants in the national discussion around energy saving.

"I am not looking forward to the next few months at all," she added.

  • Government support information:

The government recently gave more details on the payments schedule for the latest round of cost-of-living support, following on from previous payments. New £900 cash support for more than eight million eligible means-tested benefits claimants, including people on universal credit, pension credit and tax credits, starts in the spring and will go directly to bank accounts in three payments. There will also be a separate £150 payment during summer 2023 for people with disabilities and a £300 pensioner payment during winter 2023/24. More information about the government’s cost-of-living support and what is available is at helpforhouseholds.campaign.gov.uk.