What do we want to see in the Autumn statement?
With Halloween long gone and every sparkler extinguished by Storm Ciaran, you might think there was nothing left to do but to stock up on mulled wine and sit it out until Christmas. But fear not – there is one more moment of excitement to squeeze out of the season of falling leaves before the carolling begins.
Yes, it’s back again. It’s the pumpkin spice latte of the political calendar. That’s right – the Autumn Statement is now just six sleeps away.
But what is the Autumn Statement, I hear you ask. And what do we want to see in it?
What is the Autumn Statement?
Every Autumn, the Chancellor of the Exchequer makes a speech setting out how the economy is doing. The Chancellor also tends to use this opportunity to announce changes to how the Government spends its money, as well as any changes to tax.
This means that the Autumn Statement might see the Government announce anything from new funding for public services to tax cuts.
What does Sense want to see in the Autumn Statement?
With 70% of people with complex disabilities telling us they are worried about how they will cope this winter, it’s clear that the cost of living crisis isn’t over yet.
It’s true that inflation has fallen. But this doesn’t undo the price rises faced by disabled people since the start of the crisis. And with Sense polling last year finding that over half of people with complex disabilities saying they are in debt because of rising costs, it’s likely that the crisis has had a long-term effect on disabled people’s finances.
Here at Sense, we don’t think disabled people should wait for more financial support to help them through the crisis. That’s why we’re calling on the Chancellor to announce more financial support for disabled people at next week’s Autumn Statement.
What do we think this support should look like?
Cutting disabled people’s energy bills
People with complex disabilities tend to face higher energy bills. This may be because they need to use more heating to keep warm, or they may have to use energy-intensive medical equipment at home. Sadly, the rising price of energy has been catastrophic for many disabled people.
There has been some support with energy bills. But, as the Work and Pensions Committee concluded this week, the Government’s financial support for disabled people hasn’t fully reflected the costs they face.
Like many other charities, Sense is calling for the introduction of a social tariff. This would cap the cost of energy for certain groups of people, including disabled people. 86% of people with complex disabilities agreed that this would help them with their energy bills.
Last Autumn Statement, the Government committed to consulting on a social tariff for energy. One year on, however, this has yet to happen.
We’re still holding out hope that the Government will announce a social tariff next Wednesday.
But if they do not, then they should at least set out how they will help disabled people to meet the high energy costs they face.
Uprating benefits in line with inflation
Every year, the Government decides how much it will increase benefits by. All through the pandemic, benefits have lagged behind inflation, meaning many disabled people’s costs went up while their income did not.
It is vital that benefits go up in line with the current rate of inflation. Anything less than that would mean a real-terms cut in the income of disabled people on benefits.
A real-terms cut would be wrong at any time. But at a time when 75% of people with complex disabilities in receipt of benefits are worried about whether they will be able to heat their home this winter, it would be deeply unfair.
We’re calling for the Chancellor to end the uncertainty disabled people face by announcing next Wednesday that benefits will be uprated in line with inflation.
Making the benefits system fairer in the long run
But the Government needs to go further than uprating benefits in line with inflation.
In the short run, disabled people need the Chancellor to announce more financial support to help them through the winter.
But the Government shouldn’t stop there. Benefits were already far too low when the cost of living crisis hit.
The Department for Work and Pensions needs to do more to make sure that disabled people have the money they need to lead independent and meaningful lives.
That’s why Sense is calling for the Government to build a benefits system that always meet the needs of disabled people – whatever the rate of inflation.
Next Wednesday, the policy and public affairs team at Sense will be paying close attention to the Chancellor’s speech. We’re hoping that the Government will do the right thing and support disabled people through the cost of living crisis. But if they don’t, we’ll sure to hold them to account.
Get in touch
If you are an MP, peer or from government and would like more information about the work of Sense and how you could be involved locally and nationally contact the team on [email protected].
If you are a researcher, or would like to know more about our policy research work please contact [email protected].
We are available 24/7 for media interviews, comment and information. Contact [email protected] or call 0203 833 0611.