MPs have been told of the desperate struggle for survival many disabled people are facing because of their spiralling living costs.
Members of the Commons women and equalities committee were hearing evidence yesterday (Wednesday) from two disabled people and a carer as part of a one-off session on the cost-of-living.
Abigail Broomfield (pictured), a disabled, full-time student, told the committee that the electricity costs for her small studio flat had risen from £53 in January 2022 to £166 in December 2022.
Her parliamentary petition, which called for all those on disability benefits to be eligible for the government’s £650 cost-of-living payment, was supported by nearly 25,000 people last year.
She said her taxi costs have increased by between 50 and 100 per cent, bus fares have also increased, while laundry costs have risen by 40 per cent.
She told the committee: “It’s very bleak.”
She described how one disabled friend ended up in hospital with hypothermia in December because she could only afford to heat one room in her flat.
Broomfield said she puts herself at risk of falls in her own flat by using a torch instead of turning on the lights to save money.
She added: “I’m not seeing my friends or family as much as I used to. As a really social person, this impacts on my mental health massively.
“I’ve given up my hobbies. If I get through this winter, I feel like it’s a miracle at the moment.
“We are making a lot of choices between heating and eating and as a result we are pushing ourselves into debt with utility companies, as we simply have to choose food to stay alive rather than paying these companies that are charging us a large amount.”
Jignesh Vaidya, another wheelchair-user, said he had given up his regular visits to the gym because he could no longer afford them, even though he has a full-time job and receives tax credits.
He used to play wheelchair basketball two or three times a week but can now only afford to go once a month, and even then he has to borrow money from his 82-year-old mother.
He told the committee: “Am I going to go out and socialise with a friend, go to basketball?
“That was my only output, to go and see my friends who are, like me, disabled, and play sports together, but that’s now taken away.
“[Now] I see them mainly once a month if I am lucky and I can afford that.”
Suzanne Buckner, a carer with a disabled husband and two disabled children, said the cost-of-living challenges her family are facing can sometimes become “completely overwhelming”.
Both she and Broomfield suggested to MPs that signing up to their energy providers’ priority services register (PSR) was almost pointless.
In December, Disability News Service reported that the government and the energy regulator Ofgem had confirmed that people who use ventilators, dialysis machines or other vital medical equipment in their own homes must make their own contingency plans rather than expect anything more than basic support in the event of planned power-cuts this winter, even if they sign up to a PSR.
Buckner said her family had been placed on the PSR of their electricity provider, Scottish Power, which told them in a letter that their power would be switched off regularly to “protect the national grid”.
She said: “I get a text telling me that I’m a vulnerable customer and people who live with me are vulnerable, and the electricity goes off and I get the candles out and the torches and I get the letter.
“So we’re on the register. It doesn’t work.”
Broomfield said she was also on her energy provider Bulb’s PSR but all that has meant so far is that she has received texts confirming that she is on the register.
She said she built up a small debt of less than £200 with Bulb, which she had been able to pay, but Bulb had passed it to a debt collector.
She also told the committee of the “dehumanising” process of applying for personal independence payment.
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