How the rising cost of living is affecting families with disabilities

Families looking after those who are disabled say they are becoming increasingly worried about being able to pay their bills as the cost of living continues to soar.

As essential services and goods like heating, travel, equipment and therapies become more expensive, families say they are living with less and less, or are being forced to go without essential items.

In one instance a family saw their electricity bill rise from £1,800 a year to more than £5,000.

Jim and Lynda O'Neill have tried to make their son's life as comfortable as possible

Christopher O'Neill is 37 but as vulnerable as the day he was born. A viral infection at six months old left him permanently brain damaged.

His parents Jim and Lynda from Newton Heath, Manchester, have tried their best to make his life as comfortable as possible.

Mum Lynda told me: "Christopher can't walk, he can’t talk, he is incontinent. It is pretty much like having a newborn baby."

The couple have installed an electric lift so their son can sleep upstairs and use the bathroom and electric hoists so he can be transferred from his wheelchair to a bed.

Christopher O' Neill , 37, contracted Encephalitis when he was six months old

Lynda added: "He only looks small but he’s a dead weight. It’s something we have to use so we have to pay the bills - whatever they are."

Christopher's medical conditions mean he has to be kept warm at all times so the family have to keep the heating on throughout the year.

The O'Neill's are worried about price hikes and just how far their pensions will stretch.

Life costs more for people with disabilities and their families.

The Tameside based charity Our Kids Eyes helps more than 2,000 families with disabled children every year. Elaine Healey says many are already struggling financially.

Elaine, who started the charity 20 years ago, told me about a family in "an absolute panic" after their electricity bill went up from £1,800 a year to an estimated £5,200.

Volunteer Elaine Healey runs the charity Our Kids Eyes based in Tameside

At one point in the interview Elaine breaks down in tears. She tells me how helpless she feels.

She says: "Usually when our families come to us, we can signpost them to a service but there isn't one. There aren't anymore services for them.

"We can fill their fridges; we can give them nappies but we can't pay a £5,000 electric bill. What happens to that family? What happens to those children? It’s wrong."

Heather and Aaron Smith have three children with disabilities

Heather and Aaron Smith from Hyde have three children - Alfie, 11, and five-year-old Jack are profoundly deaf and autistic.

Jack and his twin George are also non-verbal with complex learning difficulties. Family life can be challenging and now Heather is bracing herself for an increase in their bills.

Heather works as a speech and language therapist while Aaron had to give up his job during lockdown to look after the boys. 

Heather said: "I am worried because I don't know where I can cut costs. The life I want to give the boys - you need money to do things like that.

"If we go for a day out- we need an extra person to come with us so each boy has one to one so that's two cars and more fuel."

Alfie Smith and his mum Heather

With the cost of living set to spiral over the coming months- many families will be hoping for a helping hand from  tomorrow’s Spring Statement.

Tom Marsland, policy manager at disability equality charity Scope, said: “Amid the worst cost of living crisis in decades, disabled people and their families are being left high and dry by the Government.

“The Chancellor must use the Spring Statement to stop disabled people and their families being pushed further into poverty.

“Life costs more if you’re disabled, but the support being offered doesn’t touch the sides for disabled families.

“Spiralling living and energy costs are crushing disabled people who have already been cutting back for months. Many already face sky-high energy bills from needing more energy to charge vital equipment, or extra heating to stay warm.

When I asked for a response from the Government they told me: "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 and a £150 non-repayable reduction in Council Tax bills.

"The energy price cap will also continue to insulate millions of customers from volatile global gas prices."