Predictions show that gas prices could rise by as much as 50% this coming February, as the Ofgem is set to announce the highest price companies can charge for fuel in Britain. Amid the uncertainty, there remains the question on what this will mean for disabled people in the UK?
Fuel stress refers to when members of a household are unable to heat their home to an adequate temperature as a result of their financial circumstances.
A report conducted last year by the Social Market Foundation and disability charity Scope found that 42% of families relying on disability benefits such as Personal Independence Payment were living in poverty, whilst the disability employment gap remained above 40%. This means that the inflation of energy prices is set to disproportionately affect disabled people, with many of us having to use more heating than the average household due to conditions that are exacerbated by the cold weather. For example, those with Cerebral Palsy are likely to experience muscle spasms and more stiffness in the joints during the winter months.
With many already in poverty due to a broken benefits system, and an underlying prejudice towards those with disabilities making it harder for disabled people to access education and in turn paid employment, it seems an increasing amount of disabled people will have to make the heart-breaking choice between heating and food.
Speaking to Voice about rising costs, Tom Marsland, the policy manager at Scope said:
“Many disabled people are facing the full force of price rises, supplier collapse and an energy market in turmoil. With energy bills rising, it’s those who struggle to afford energy in the first place who are hit hardest. Life already costs more for disabled people and their families, and we are facing rising inflation and the biggest income squeeze in a generation”.
On average, a disabled person’s extra costs equate to almost half of their income (not including housing costs) according to Scope.
A new report suggests that almost 6 million households are set to struggle with their energy costs in April, when energy bills are set to rise from £700 to about £2000 annually. Talking to the BBC, wheelchair user Anne Vivian-Smith says although her energy bills used to be £84 a month it's now increasing to £140. She also told BBC News, “I have no choice but to use my hoist to change wheelchairs, and to use my [electric] powerchair to get around, I have no choice but to use my electric bed, and all of this is going to have an impact on the cost”.
When asked how he thinks the government should support disabled people during this time Tom Marsland replied, “The Government must urgently get financial support to all those who need it most. As VAT receipts increase as bills go up, this money could be used to provide assistance to disabled households who are making difficult financial choices this winter”.
For help and support with rising energy costs, you can visit Scope’s Disability Energy Service.