In the cost of living crisis, people with complex disabilities need more support
While rising prices are affecting everyone, some people are noticing it more than others. Disabled people, and particularly the UK’s 1.6 million people with complex disabilities, have long faced higher costs than non-disabled people.
Therapies, accessible transport, specialist equipment and the energy it takes to run it…
It all adds up. But benefits for disabled people are often just not enough to cover it.
All this means that the rising cost of living is causing particular hardship for people with complex disabilities.
What about going into work or taking on more hours?
Employment isn’t always an appropriate outcome for people with complex disabilities. Even for those who can and do work, the jobs market and workplace don’t make it easy for them.
Given all this, it’s clear that people with complex disabilities needed specific support to help them deal with the rising cost of living.
What support has the Chancellor announced for the cost of living crisis?
Specific support for disabled people
We were pleased to hear the Chancellor recognise that, in his words, disabled people “may face a wide range of additional costs, such as specialist equipment, specialist food, and increased transport costs… these costs as they are likely to have increased”.
He went on to announce a one-off payment of £150 to everyone on Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Disability Living Allowance (DLA).
These payments aren’t means-tested. Any disabled person who gets PIP or DLA will get this extra support. This reflects the disproportionate impact of the cost of living crisis on disabled people, regardless of how much they earn.
Broader support for people on benefits
People on low-income benefits are undoubtedly the group that benefitted most from the measures the Chancellor announced on Thursday. Over eight million people on means-tested benefits will get an extra £650 this year, paid in lumps in July and in the Autumn.
Unlike the £20 uplift during the pandemic, it will apply to both those on Universal Credit and the older benefits that Universal Credit replaces.
Given that benefits have only gone up in line with the inflation rate for last September, when inflation was almost a third of what it is today, this extra financial support is needed.
Support for all households
As well as support for disabled people and financial assistance targeted at those on means-tested benefits, the Chancellor also announced that every household in the UK will receive a £400 reduction in their energy bills this winter.
This replaces the scheme announced by the Government earlier this year, in which every household was to receive a £200 reduction in their energy bills. That amount would be paid back through higher energy costs over several years.
In contrast, the new scheme won’t need to need to be paid back at all.
But… is it enough?
There’s no doubt that people with complex disabilities will receive a substantial amount of support as a result of last week’s announcement. In total, people with complex disabilities on both PIP/DLA and means-tested benefits will receive one-off payments totalling £800 this year, as well as a £400 reduction in their energy bills.
But ‘one-off’ really is the key word here.
At Sense, we think that benefits should be set at a level that lets people with complex disabilities, whether they are in work or not, lead meaningful lives that are as independent as possible.
People with complex disabilities already weren’t getting enough financial support from the welfare system before the cost of living crisis.
These one-off payments may lessen the impact of benefits not rising in line with the latest inflation rate. That is welcome. But one-off payments will only ever be sticking plasters.
Here are some other measures we’d like to see.
Three ways the Government can do more to support people with complex disabilities
1. Make sure benefits reflect current inflation rates
One obvious way to help people with complex disabilities would be to make sure that benefits reflect the latest inflation rate.
Currently, benefits are uprated once a year, in line with the inflation rate from six months ago. But with skyrocketing inflation, this has meant that benefits have failed to keep up.
We want to see benefits uprated more than annually, with increases reflecting the inflation rate at the time of the uprating. This is particularly important in times like these when inflation is changing rapidly.
2. Make the transition to Universal Credit fairer
The Government recently started to move people on older benefits onto Universal Credit, with the aim of moving every person receiving benefits onto Universal Credit by 2024.
Everyone who receives a letter telling them to move to Universal Credit will have three months to do so. Otherwise, they could lose their benefits altogether.
At Sense, we’re concerned that this could mean people having their benefits cut off after three months, particularly if they don’t get letters in an accessible format.
As well as asking the Government to ensure that letters are sent out in accessible formats, we’re calling for a guarantee that people with complex disabilities won’t lose their benefits if they can’t apply for Universal Credit within three months.
3. Help people with complex disabilities to pay their energy bills
Finally, we think the Government could do more to support people with complex disabilities pay for the rising cost of energy.
Disabled people tend to have higher energy bills, yet changes to the eligibility criteria for the Warm Homes Discount mean that up to 300,000 disabled people will lose out on the annual £150 discount to their energy bills from October.
As well as seeing the current eligibility rates retained, we want to see additional support for people with complex disabilities who have higher energy needs.
All in all, the Chancellor’s statement was good news for people with complex disabilities. But there is still more to be done to support people with complex disabilities through the cost of living crisis.
Sense is here for everyone with complex disabilities
If you or a loved one are looking for support, get in touch with our Information and Advice service to find out how we can help.