Howard said: “It’s been absolutely crazy. I really didn’t expect it to grow this much, but it shows how many people care about it. It’s not just people with disabilities.
“A lot of the comments are people who don’t have any kind of disability or wouldn’t receive the payment but are saying: ‘I can see and understand how this does disproportionately affect those with disabilities.’”
The 27-year-old, who has autism, has “suffered firsthand in the past from lack of understanding and support”. He was recently named a Big Issue Changemaker for his dedication to campaigning on behalf of the disability community alongside his full-time work in healthcare.
Research shows the cost of living crisis is hitting disabled people harder than most. More than two thirds of people who need food banks to survive are disabled, according to the Trussell Trust.
It is partly because disabled people face greater costs than the rest of the population. Research from Scope shows that there is an extra £975 each month to fork out on average if you are disabled, because of expenses like specialist equipment, the necessity of keeping homes warm and the importance of a healthy diet.
Of 2,000 disabled adults surveyed by Scope, 38% said they were not putting on their heating when cold because of the cost of living. More than one in three (34%) said they were skipping meals, eating less or buying lower quality food because they couldn’t afford it.
Campaigners have repeatedly and insistently warned the government that the £150 disability cost of living payment was not enough, although ministers argue those on the lowest incomes would have been eligible for the means-tested cost of living payment.
There were two sets of cost of living payments – each totalling £900 – paid to more than 8 million people in receipt of means-tested benefits. These are also set to come to an end this month, with no further payments planned and many people having already received their last.
Other charities and campaigners are calling for longer term solutions. A campaign by the Trussell Trust and Joseph Rowntree Foundation, backed by The Big Issue, is urging the government to introduce an ‘essentials guarantee’ ensuring that people on benefits are given enough money to survive.
“It is just a sticking plaster,” Howard admitted of the cost of living payments. “It doesn’t actually effectively address the needs of disabled people, so I think it’s important to also have a review. The £150 certainly isn’t enough, but it has provided a form of lifeline for a lot of people.”
Disability activist and journalist Rachel Charlton-Dailey has written about how disabled people are missing out on cost of living support for The Big Issue, and was quoted in the House of Lords this week.
Baroness Brinton described the lack of financial support as “discrimination against disabled people who, as we have heard, have much higher energy costs”.
In response to a committee report on cost of living payments, the government said: “It is right that the highest amount goes to those on means-tested benefits as those on the lowest incomes will be most vulnerable to rises in the cost of living.”
Any further proposals about the payments are expected to be announced in Jeremy Hunt’s Spring Statement on 6 March, and Howard plans to ramp up his campaigning until then.
He has written to the chancellor, work and pensions secretary Mel Stride and his local MP Jo Churchill, who is the minister for employment, but he has received no response as yet.
“I think the government has no excuse,” Howard said. “Their position is that a lot of these disabled people get other forms of support, even though it doesn’t cover everyone, but now there’s going to be no support whatsoever [in terms of cost of living payments], so that makes the situation even worse.
“Energy bills went up again this January. It’s not like the cost of living crisis was a year ago and we’ve had no impact since then. It’s still affecting a lot of people. And based on the comments and responses I’ve been getting, it’s an ongoing crisis. The government has tried to frame it as everything having improved and it’s coming to an end now, but that’s not the case for millions of people across the country.”
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