Campaigners have written to the new prime minister to ask her to act urgently to prevent disabled people facing a “humanitarian crisis” this winter due to the “devastating and intensifying” levels of poverty they are facing.
They warn Liz Truss in the letter that rising energy and food costs, inadequate levels of social security and increasing social care costs are combining to create “devastating and intensifying levels of poverty”.
The letter was due to be sent today (Thursday) by two campaign networks of disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) and allies.
They call on the prime minister to confirm that she realises that the cost-of-living crisis will “create destitution and risk to life” for disabled people who face “complex structural barriers” to earning income.
And they say there are likely to be “devastating” consequences for disabled people if there is not an immediate increase in benefits.
The letter calls on Truss to govern “in a spirit of compassion and respect towards all disabled people” and it suggests that she could make eradicating disabled people’s destitution her “legacy”.
The Disability Poverty Campaign Group – whose members include DPOs Inclusion London, Inclusion Barnet, Cheshire Disabled People’s Panel and Disability Rights UK – and the Disability Benefits Consortium say in their letter that some disabled people are rationing their use of vital medical equipment such as oxygen concentrators, while others are turning off their heating, even if they need it because they are unable to regulate their body temperature.
As well as the costs of heating homes, the letter highlights that disabled people face extra electricity costs due to the need to charge their powerchairs and scooters, and operate equipment such as lifts, hoists, ventilators, feeding pumps and dialysis machines.
They say that a recent survey suggests that 600,000 disabled people in the UK have less than £10 a week to spend on food and other essentials, after housing costs and bills, and that disabled people make up three-fifths of those using Trussell Trust foodbanks and a similar proportion of those asking Citizens Advice for help with fuel bills.
They also point out that half of households in poverty have at least one disabled member, and that the cost-of-living crisis has a disproportionate negative impact on disabled women (particularly single mothers), disabled children, disabled people of colour, disabled people with complex needs, disabled people in rural areas, and older people.
The letter also highlights a Disability News Service report in February, which revealed that tens of thousands of disabled people across the country every year are having debt collection action taken against them by their local authorities over unpaid care charges.
It reminds the prime minister: “Every day, disabled people-led organisations are confronted with the poverty created by a system that charges low and fixed-income disabled people for meeting their statutory care needs.”
The letter recognises the measures taken earlier this year under Truss’s predecessor, Boris Johnson, with a one-off payment of £150 by the end of this month for those on disability benefits, and those on means-tested benefits receiving an extra £650.
But it also points out that 300,000 claimants of disability living allowance and personal independence payment in England and Wales who are not on means-tested benefits will lose their eligibility for the £150 Warm Home Discount this autumn, erasing the gain from the £150 one-off payment.
Among the letter’s urgent demands are for an “emergency uprating” of benefits in line with inflation predictions; a reinstatement of eligibility for the Warm Home Discount for the 300,000 disabled people who have had it removed; an end to all arrears-related deductions from benefits; and further targeted, non-repayable social security support for low-income disabled people.