Disabled households let down by Rishi's spring statement: "I’m seriously worried that we won’t be able to afford to run our wheelchairs"

“It costs a lot just to keep the bed plugged in, and with the wheelchair too I can easily get through £100 a week.”

By Lucinda Herbert
Monday, 28th March 2022, 4:50 pm
Updated Tuesday, 29th March 2022, 9:57 am

Disabled people in Blackpool have felt let down by the lack of targeted support announced in the spring statement.

Many disabled households face extra costs that they are unable to cut back on, such as powering electric wheelchairs and mobility aids, so their energy bills tend to be higher.

The Disability Benefits Consortium has described the absence of an uplift in disability related benefits as a “real-terms benefits cut”.

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Denise Lang, a disabled person in Blackpool who is worried about her rising energy bills

Former soldier David Hughes, of Layton, is severely disabled.

The 64-year-old man lost his leg and damaged his spine while serving in the Royal Artillery, and is shielding from Covid due to his complex health problems.

His partner, Wendy Harbon, a disabled rights campaigner and former councillor, said:

“We’re spending a lot more on heating and lights because we are both housebound. The rising energy costs are so frightening because we’re getting to that point where I’m seriously worried that we won’t be able to afford to run our wheelchairs and scooters any more.”

Their home on Annesley Avenue is fitted with a stairlift, which also runs on electricity.

But the couple, who are both visually impaired, said they can’t let anyone in to read the metre so don’t know exactly how much their bills have gone up.

“It’s not just electric and gas. We’ve noticed the food bills creeping up and there’s no extra help for us to manage.”

Denise Lang, 60, has severe brain damage and osteoarthritis in both hips. She has an adjustable bed, which runs on electric, and a wheelchair which needs charging up every night.

A carer visits her home on Shaw Road every morning to get her out of bed and into her wheelchair using an electric hoist.

“It costs a lot just to keep the bed plugged in, and with the wheelchair too I can easily get through £100 a week.

“Gas was £100 for just over a week, but that's gone up at least another £100 now. The only thing I can do to save money is turn the heating off as much as I can.”

Denise lives with her 35-year-old nephew, Martin. He claims Carers Allowance – £67.60 a week.

This will rise to £69.70 on the 12th April 2022 – just 3.1% in line with the Consumer Price Index as it was in October 2021 when the budget was set.

But ONS figures show that the CPI has risen to 6.2%. In February 2022 the CPI rose by 0.8% from the previous month, compared with a rise of 0.1% in the same month the previous year.

Denise said: “I’m frightened to death when my nephew goes to the shops because of the cost of food. I tell him not to overspend. Most days I dread looking at my bank account because I’m finding it so hard to manage.”

Her television has been a lifeline - for entertainment and company. Denise loves Tipping Point and This Morning, but has recently had to stop watching them to save electricity.

“I’ve had to ask the carer to switch off the tele when she leaves at 8am, and it stays off unless my nephew wants to watch something. It’s just too expensive now.”

Denise was also very disappointed with the budget announcement on 23rd March 2022.

She said there was nothing that would benefit her household.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said helping the country’s poorest people was his “priority”.

Put to him that he did not “create a buffer for the people who need it most” in his spring statement, he told BBC Breakfast: “So we did, and actually because they are our priority we started with them, and we did that in October in my Budget then.

“And what we did then was make the operation of Universal Credit more generous, we cut something called the taper rate, the tax rate in Universal Credit… you act in advance of things happening where you can.”

But the Chancellor received criticism for being out of touch with reality.

Anastasia Berry, from the Disability Benefits Consortium, described the absence of an uplift as a “real-terms benefits cut”.

“Talking about a cost-of-living crisis while pushing through a real-terms benefits cut is like telling someone about a storm while drilling a hole in their boat,” she said.

“The Government must increase benefits levels in line with inflation, or disabled people’s health will suffer even more.”

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Recent figures from the Disability Benefits Consortium showed that disabled people on Employment and Support Allowance will experience an average real terms cut of £272 per year. Overall, some of the hardest hit disabled people will face a real terms cut of £592 per year. This is on top of being denied the extra £20 per week support those on Universal Credit received during the pandemic.

Nearly a third of respondents (30%) in a DBC survey said they were sometimes or always unable to attend medical appointments due to the associated transport costs of attending.

Paul Maynard, Conservative MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys said: “Governments have recognised that many with a disability face extra costs, often for power and heating, which is why Personal Independence Payments were set up in the first place. Although PIP will increase by just over 3% next month, clearly inflation exceeds that right now. It’s vital that those who worry over their bills ensure they claim all the other government help which has been set up in recent weeks and for which they are eligible – this includes the £10 million Councils have been given across the Fylde to help with energy costs, as well as the much broader criteria for claiming the Warm Homes Discount, and people should always contact their energy provider to discuss their needs as well as most have support schemes in place.

"Energy prices remain unpredictable thanks to the global situation, but Government has already spent some £9 billion trying to mitigate the impact. I don’t doubt more needs to be done, but ultimately we have to be less reliant on importing our energy, so we are less exposed globally.”

Cat Smith, Labour MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood said: “The Spring Statement offered no relief to those who will be on the sharp end of the cost of living crisis. disabled people have additional living costs, disability benefits have only gone up 3.1% when inflation is set to be at least double that. I'd urge the government to look at giving extra support to disabled people to meet the increased costs of the equipment they need, for example by incentivising energy companies to offer reduced tariffs for recipients of PIP and other disability benefits.”