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Rising energy bills, food bills, care costs, and inflation are hurting disabled people the most. Blind and partially sighted people can’t simply choose a cheaper tariff, a lower-cost home, or skip medical treatments. This cost of living crisis demands real action. The government’s response has been inadequate. That is why we are campaigning for more.
Disabled individuals and their households have, on average, lower incomes than their non-disabled counterparts. They often incur additional costs related to the treatment and mitigation of their disability. They typically spend a greater share of their income on food and energy, the commodities driving the current surge in inflation.
The government has so far introduced two £150 one-off cost of living payments for blind and partially sighted people in receipt of disability benefits. The first payment was made in September and October 2022 and the second will be made sometime during summer 2023. Some blind and partially sighted people have also been eligible for other low income cost of living payments.
We are concerned that the disability cost of living payment is not enough, particularly as it comes on the back of years of below-inflation benefit rises. We believe the government should look again at the particular costs of disability and make additional targeted payments during 2023/2024.
We believe that long-term, energy suppliers should be required by the government to offer a social tariff to protect low-income households from variations in prices. A social tariff is a targeted discount energy deal for qualifying low-income consumers. It is a safety net for eligible households who might be struggling to afford their bills. It is typically below the price of the cheapest available energy tariff and targeted at those living in fuel poverty or on a low income.
Social tariffs already exist in the water and telecommunications industry to offer year-round discounts and protection to the most vulnerable households. Alongside home energy efficiency programmes, a social tariff for energy is an important part of the long-term solution.
The government has increased benefits in 2023/2024 in line with inflation, but this masks years of below inflation increases that have left disability benefits lagging behind the cost of living. This compounds the pressure on the household budgets of blind and partially sighted people.
We believe that the government needs to urgently address the historic weakening of disability benefits and rebase them on reflect the true additional costs of disability.
Benefits are currently reviewed annually based on the inflation rate in a single month six months earlier. This can often mean that the rate of inflation used is artificially low (or high) and therefore fails to ensure that benefits paid each month actually match the cost of living. We believe that disability benefits need to be reviewed more frequently so that blind and partially sighted people are not left playing catch up year after year.