By Tom McDonough
A user-led organisation is empowering disabled people to take more control of their finances and speak up about the impact of the cost-of-living crisis.
Merton Centre for Independent Living (Merton CIL) has begun encouraging people to speak out about the impact of the crisis while offering workshops to help people feel more “in control” of their finances and wellbeing.
In January, it will host a budgeting workshop that aims to help people keep track of their income and expenditure and find ways to make savings, including through referrals to Merton CIL’s information and advice service.
It is also developing case studies to publish on its website, using craftivism* to share cost-of-living stories in “creative ways”, and is planning to make story-telling about the impact of the crisis a central theme of its International Day of Disabled People celebration next month.
Charlet Wilson, Merton CIL’s joint chief executive, said: “We are supporting service-users and members to have the confidence to speak up about the effects of the crisis on their day-to-day life and the changes we need to ensure more disabled people can live fully independent and inclusive lives.
“A large percentage of our service-users and members experience poverty and many have expressed concern about the rising cost of energy.
“Some have told us they are having to reduce their energy usage to the point where it is impacting on their health and wellbeing.”
One Merton CIL member, who lives with persistent pain, explained how rising energy costs are affecting her life.
She said: “I am really worried about the cost of gas and electricity. I rely on a warm temperature and hot water to manage my conditions.
“If prices increase any more, I am not sure I will be able to use energy in the way I need to stay well.”
Research published in September showed nearly half of disabled households (48 per cent) had struggled to keep their home warm and comfortable at some point this year, compared with 30 per cent of non-disabled households.
Two-thirds (66 per cent) of disabled households have avoided turning on their heating (compared with 58 per cent of non-disabled households), half have reduced the use of their cooker or oven (48 per cent versus 30 per cent of non-disabled households), and more than two-in-five (44 per cent) have reduced the number of showers or baths they take (against 28 per cent of non-disabled households).
Gina Vettese, Merton CIL’s co-chair, said: “The government needs to recognise that Deaf and disabled people are among the poorest in our society, and target support to ensure we can stay healthy and well in the face of rapidly increasing costs.
“They also need to work with Deaf and disabled people to develop long-term approaches to tackle the financial inequality they face.”
Merton CIL has used its membership of the Disability Poverty Campaign Group to lobby local MPs Labour’s Siobhain McDonagh and Conservative Stephen Hammond to encourage the government to act on disability poverty.
The campaign’s demands include an immediate increase in benefits in line with inflation, a review of the levels of the key disability benefits, a halt to the withdrawal of the Warm Home Discount from disabled people who do not qualify for specific means-tested benefits, and an end to adult social care charges.
Commenting on the one-off £150 cost-of-living payment for people on disability benefits agreed by the government, Vettese said: “This is an ongoing disaster that small one-off payments cannot solve. We urgently need a systematic solution.”
Merton CIL is also attending local forums and meetings with the local authority and voluntary sector organisations to try to shape a collective response to the crisis.
Wilson said: “We are working with the local council and voluntary sector to ensure that the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on disabled people is reflected in local support.”
Other Merton CIL services aimed at combating poverty among local disabled people include a benefits advice service, and support for disabled people to cope with their utilities bills by helping them access financial assistance, cutting their energy usage, and providing support with managing debts.
Wilson said: “We support people to apply for grants and understand and manage utilities debts and we have delivered workshops with local organisations to share information around energy-saving tips and financial assistance to help them through the crisis, like accessing grants, energy vouchers and foodbank vouchers.”
*The use of crafting such as sewing or knitting to create activism and push for social justice
Picture: Trustees of Merton CIL, including Gina Vettese (front row, right)
This news story is part of an ongoing Disability News Service series that highlights the vital work of the UK’s disabled people’s organisations
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