Disabled people have reacted with disbelief to the chancellor’s “cruel” decision to all-but-ignore those who rely on benefits in yesterday’s spring statement, despite the cost-of-living crisis.
In his 3,500-word speech, Rishi Sunak (pictured) announced a rise in the starting threshold of national insurance and a temporary 5p per litre cut in fuel duty, as well as an extra £500 million for the Household Support Fund*, following an initial £500 million announced last September.
But there was no mention in his speech of disabled people and how many of them are now struggling to survive, and no attempt to increase benefits to match the sharply rising rate of inflation.
His refusal to help those on the lowest incomes came as the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) said inflation was set to reach a 40-year high of almost nine per cent, while the real value of benefits was set to fall by five per cent in 2022-23.
Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, said yesterday: “In the face of what the OBR calls the biggest hit to household finances since comparable records began in 1956-57 he has done nothing more for those dependent on benefits, the very poorest, besides a small amount of extra cash for local authorities to dispense at their discretion.
“Their benefits will rise by just 3.1 per cent for the coming financial year. Their cost of living could well rise by 10 per cent.”
Meanwhile, the Treasury is failing to publish figures (PDF) showing the overall impact of the spring statement on lower, middle and higher income households, instead publishing only figures that show the impact of all spending decisions since 2019.
Disabled poverty campaigner Louisa Britain said she was in “disbelief” when she realised that Sunak had failed to help those like her in poverty in his speech.
She said: “I just kept looking at it, thinking, ‘how have you managed to completely and utterly not address any of the cost-of-living crises, whilst talking about it as though you have?’
“It feels like he has deliberately avoided doing anything that would actually help.
“Nobody on lower incomes is going to benefit from this. I’m not going to benefit from this.
“The cost-of-living crisis is horrific. There is no need for this much suffering.”
She has a small monthly sum of self-employed income, and the only measure in the statement that will help her is the temporary 5p per litre cut in fuel duty, despite steep rises in the price of food, petrol and utilities, and a continuing freeze in local housing allowance rates.
She says that even the Household Support Fund announcement will not help her, as she has decided that the “humiliating” process of applying for a grant – in which councils can trawl through the applicant’s bank statements, demanding explanations for individual spending decisions – would be too much of a risk to her mental health.
Britain, who is compiling One In Five, an anthology of essays by people living in poverty, said: “There’s a terrifying rise in everything. We are so pressed at the moment, with everything going up and up.
“Everyone I know who is disabled and raising children, or who isn’t disabled and is raising children who are, is not coping.
“More than half of my friends in similar circumstances, single parenting families where disability is a massive factor, are now relying on food banks to some degree.
“Everybody has at least one bill they are not paying.”
She is now resorting to selling some of her clothes to try to survive financially.
Britain added: “I feel genuinely frightened about how I am going to sustain these children’s futures.”
Kamran Mallick, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said the spring statement left disabled people “living on bare bones benefits such as employment and support allowance (ESA) and universal credit with nothing to cover the shortfall produced by rocketing costs of living.
“These benefits are there to cover the most basic of bills. ESA is just £74.70 per week for over 25-year-olds. That falls to £59.20 for under-25s. People on universal credit are just 26p per week better off.
“The impacts of mental and physical health from living on such meagre sums of money is high.
“Being forced to survive on these sums is not living. It is punitive and unsustainable. The social security safety net is riven with gaping holes.
“It is implausible that the chancellor truly, deeply understands the living hell which is a life lived in poverty.
“On £70 a week, or less, disabled people live with not just empty bank balances, but our very souls are depleted down to the dregs.”
Jumoke Abdullahi, communications and media officer for Inclusion London, said: “Rishi Sunak failing to announce any specific support for disabled people during the statement is truly appalling.
“Especially given that the cost-of-living crisis will greatly impact a group of people that are already financially worse off.
“Even prior to the recent rising costs of energy and other living essentials, disabled people already faced financial constraints, known as a ‘disability tax’.
“The very people that have to make the impossible choices of heating or eating having their specific needs effectively left out of such an important announcement is simply not good enough.
“While the money for the Household Support Fund is certainly welcome, disabled people need more.”
Ellen Morrison, co-chair of the Commission on Social Security, which called in January for a “transformational” reboot of the social security system, said the spring statement was “a series of woefully inadequate sticking plasters, completely ignoring people reliant on social security”.
She said: “They won’t fix a decade of austerity, an ongoing pandemic and now a cost-of-living crisis. Too many are already at breaking point, we needed real solutions today.
“The rising cost of fuel, heating, food, bills, national insurance contributions and social care charging cannot be borne by those of us already ‘living’ on a pittance.
“You can’t pay out more when you’ve already got nothing.”
She added: “We recently published our plan for a decent social security system.
“We’ve got a set of ideas that would treat people with the dignity and respect they deserve, and ensure everyone has enough to live on.
“This is the kind of transformational change we need to see.”
Philip Wayland, one of the four claimants who brought a high court case against the Department for Work and Pensions for failing to offer recipients of legacy benefits the same £20-a-week increase given to people on universal credit during the pandemic, said a Conservative chancellor had yet again chosen to “compound” the economic hardship that already hits sick and disabled people the hardest.
He said: “Not only is this incredibly cruel, but it is a false economy.
“As people will have less disposable income to spend into the economy, and because of the unprecedented increase in energy costs, many people will simply not be able to pay their bills.”
Michelle Maher, from the WOWcampaign, said it was “desperate and devastating today to receive nothing” in the spring statement.
She said that benefits will rise by 3.1 per cent next month, whereas energy bills are due to rise by 54 per cent.
She said disabled people had been “written out of the discourse on societal problems”.
Maher said: “We need energy for wheelchairs, hospital beds, ventilators, dialysis machines, extra washing, and warmth to ease pain.
“For 11 years we’ve been treated as worthless second-class citizens.
“As a disabled person I count myself amongst the lucky ones. I’ve not got a child on a ventilator, or a dialysis machine.
“But for pain I need heat, and I have more washing [than other people]. Basic, basic needs.
“With [the price of] food, energy and goods rising, disabled people will be paying increased taxes through VAT and getting nothing.
“It’s terrifying to think how this will impact the disabled community as a whole.”
The Treasury had failed to comment by noon today (Thursday) on why the chancellor had ignored those disabled people struggling with the cost-of-living crisis who are not in work.
*The Housing Support Fund is distributed by councils in England through small payments to help “vulnerable households” meet costs such as food, clothing, and utilities
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