The UK and Scottish governments have been warned of a humanitarian crisis among disabled people this winter if they fail to take “robust, immediate action” to deal with “devastating and intensifying” levels of disability poverty in Scotland.
The warning was issued by the disabled people’s organisation Inclusion Scotland as it published the results of a survey on the cost-of-living crisis.
Disabled people in Scotland who took part in the survey – which was carried out before the onset of winter – reported cutting back on heating and food, and even avoiding charging their feeding pumps, while some worried about whether they would survive the colder months.
More than three-quarters (77 per cent) of disabled Scots who took part in the survey said they were going without or cutting back on essentials such as heating, food, clothing and travel.
And nearly two-thirds (64 per cent) said they were cutting down or going without things they used to manage their impairment or health condition.
One said: “Not having heating on and not using electric blanket or hot water bottles, all of which I would normally use to manage pain.”
Another said: “I only eat once a day and cannot afford to buy some food products that I should be eating.”
Inclusion Scotland carried out the survey last August and September and heard from nearly 170 disabled people.
One of those who responded said they now used the oxygen they needed to deal with respiratory failure only four days out of seven – their allowance per kilowatt was the same as it was five years ago.
They said: “I am using cylinders of oxygen instead of the actual machine. It’s not sustainable in the long term, I expect eventually I will have to use the electrical machine or die.”
Others reported cutting back on their use of incontinence products, therapy sessions, over-the-counter medication, or failing to replace independent living aids that have become “very worn or rusty”.
Many of those who responded several months ago also spoke of their fears as they approached the upcoming winter.
One respondent said: “I use a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine, every night. How am I going to afford it? My gas and electric account debit order was £54 per month. It’s now £163. Without the pump, I could stop breathing. Die.”
Another said: “Affording heating as my medical condition can be severe or even fatal in the cold.”
One said simply: “Dying.”
Another respondent answered: “Easy question, freezing to death or becoming so unwell because of the cold and being unable to afford using medical equipment so I end up in hospital.”
Susie Fitton, Inclusion Scotland’s policy manager, told Disability News Service: “Disabled people, already much more likely to be living in poverty in Scotland, are caught in the middle of this cost-of-living crisis and are facing this on top of the extra costs many already experience from simply living as disabled people.
“Policy-makers must engage with the reality of disability-related energy costs and the need to protect life.
“Disabled people need further help with energy bills, particularly those who need to use medical equipment or independent living equipment through targeted financial support or action on energy prices.”
She added: “The devastating and intensifying levels of poverty faced by disabled people in Scotland must be met with robust, immediate action by the UK and Scottish governments if we are to avert a humanitarian crisis for disabled people this winter.”
Among solutions suggested by the survey respondents were reducing energy and other bills, increasing disability and other benefits, reducing the cost of public transport, and cutting council tax.
The survey results also highlighted the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on disabled people’s mental health.
The report says: “Disabled people have limited resources and energy to deal with yet another crisis while still dealing with the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“As we have seen during the pandemic, the worry and uncertainty about the cost of living is taking its toll on mental health, with many disabled people worried about social isolation, mental health and how they will make it through the winter.”
One of those surveyed said: “It is causing depression, fear and constant anxiety. It’s impossible to have a ‘normal’ life.”
Another said: “I rarely go out now and have been turned into housebound due to fear of electricity bills to recharge wheelchair, let alone not being able to afford to travel or get a coffee while out so realistically you could say I’ve been forced to become a recluse and disappear from society which is maybe what they wish all disabled to become.”
Inclusion Scotland will now use the results to lobby those in power to do more to support disabled people in Scotland.
As well as longer-term action, it has called for an immediate “cash-first and rights-based approach which puts money in the pockets of those who are struggling”, but it says this must be done with the involvement of disabled people with lived experience of poverty and the cost-of-living crisis, and their organisations.