How can political parties make sure disabled people can afford the essentials?

A man and a woman counting money

At Sense, we know that disabled people have been struggling financially since before the cost of living crisis began. Now, many are barely able to afford food and energy.

Before the crisis, we found that disabled people were already three times more likely to be both behind on bills and regularly unable to afford food than those with no disability.

Worryingly, things have not got better. In our 2024 survey, a third (33%) of people with complex disabilities reported that they’d run out of food and were unable to afford more. That’s compared to 8% of disabled people and 4% of the general public.

Concerningly over half (56%) of people with complex disabilities won’t be able to afford to save a penny over the next year.

But why does life cost more for disabled people? Disabled people may have:

  • Higher energy bills, often due to higher heating costs or specialist equipment such as electric feeding pumps.
  • Specialised dietary needs.
  • Transport costs, such as taxis.
  • Large one-off costs such as a powered wheelchair.
  • Home adaptations.

In response to the cost of living crisis, Sense provided a one off emergency grant to disabled families. In 2022, the majority of recipients needed the money for energy bills (59%) and food (55%). By March 2023, a higher number (76%) used the money for energy bills and 66% used the money for food.

The need for action is clear. But what can the next Government do to make sure disabled people can afford the essentials?

What Sense wants to see

As a charity, Sense doesn’t support any political party. Our priority this election is to make sure that disabled people, including the 1.6 million people with complex disabilities, are at the heart of what the next Government does. We publish regular research on the extra costs of disability and the affect this has on people with complex disabilities.

Our manifesto sets out the seven key changes Sense wants to see every political party adopt.

So what does it say about making sure disabled people can afford the essentials?

Introduce an energy social tariff

Disabled people often face higher energy bills, and disabled people with higher energy requirements – like those using medical equipment in the home – need targeted support with their energy bills.

Energy bills are significantly higher than at the last general election. We are hearing frequently from people with complex disabilities who are struggling to be able to afford to use the energy they need.

Added to this, Sense research found that, even before the cost-of-living crisis, people with complex disabilities were four times as likely as non-disabled people to be unable to heat their homes adequately.

Targeted support is therefore urgently needed.

In response, charities, consumer groups, and even some energy suppliers have been arguing for the introduction of a social tariff – a lower energy tariff for people who struggle to pay their energy bills. 

This proposal would be welcomed by the people Sense supports, as we found that 86% of people with complex disabilities support the introduction of a social tariff.

Reinstate disability cost of living payments

The cost of living payments awarded in 2022 and 2023 were a drop in the ocean for many people compared to rising costs, but they were still welcome.

However, we know people with complex disabilities are still struggling, so the next Government should reinstate these payments, along with longer term support.

Urgently set up an Extra Costs Task Force

The last Government published The National Disability Strategy, which committed to the setting up of an Extra Costs Task Force, something we at Sense support.

The next government should set this task force up as soon as they arrive in office. The task force should comprehensively review the extra costs disabled people face, and work with markets and regulators to come up with solutions to address these. Disability charities such as Sense should be involved in this process too.

Improve the Warm Home Discount

The Warm Home Discount (WHD) is a rebate of £150 to help with energy bills during winter. However, recent changes meant that nearly 300,000 people who claim Personal Independence Payment (PIP) or Disability Living Allowance (DLA) were no longer eligible. The next Government should reverse this and reinstate the WHD for disabled people who are now missing out on vital support.

The WHD amount of £150 has barely changed too, yet energy bills have skyrocketed. The next Government should also increase this amount to account for recent increases in energy bills.

Review benefits so that they cover the cost of essentials

Like the NHS, the welfare system should offer support to us all when we need it. But our benefits system is letting disabled people down. 

Benefits rates are set too low to cover the essentials for most people. We found that 45% of people with complex disabilities on benefits could not afford to keep their home warm.

We know that many disabled people face extra costs related to their condition or impairment. PIP, for example, is meant to help disabled people with these costs.

But nearly half of people with complex disabilities found it difficult to afford costs related to their condition or impairment. 

The next Government should review benefits rates to make sure that every disabled person can afford the essentials, including costs related to their condition or impairment. 

What next?

We want every political party to commit to Sense’s proposals around ensuring people with complex disabilities can afford the essentials. We’ll be keeping an eye on politicians to make sure that they set out plans during the campaign.

But, whatever happens, whoever is elected, Sense will be ready to work with the Government to make sure the extra costs of disability are high on the political agenda.