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Disabled people are missing out on the government's cost of living payments. This needs to change

New ONS figures show the impact of the cost of living crisis on disabled people. The government needs to make all benefit claimants eligible for the £900 payment and reform how disability benefits are assessed, writes Rachel Charlton-Dailey

cost of living help for households

The cost of living crisis is hitting vulnerable people harder. Image: Mikhail Nilov: https://www.pexels.com/photo/person-in-gray-long-sleeves-holding-a-credit-card-6962989/

Today, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) released data on the impact of the cost of living crisis on British adults and how the vulnerable are being most affected.

Tucked away in the report’s data set are figures that show the effect the current climate is having on disabled people. Eighty per cent said their overall costs increased in January, compared to 74 per cent of non-disabled people. Likewise, 80 per cent of disabled people said their energy bills went up in January, compared to 73 per cent of non-disabled people.

On top of that, 67 per cent of disabled people said they’re trying to use less gas and electricity, compared to 60 per cent of non-disabled people. Finally and with the biggest margin, 50 per cent of disabled people say they have less to spend on food and essentials, as opposed to 38 per cent of non-disabled people.

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This follows a report by The Joseph Rowntree Foundation last month, which found four in 10 households in the poorest fifth of the population do not receive means-tested benefits such as universal credit or employment support allowance (ESA).

This means they missed out on the majority of the government’s cost of living payments – people on means-tested benefits got £900, while those of us on personal independence payment (PIP) got just £150.

There are many reasons people don’t receive these benefits. From not knowing they’re eligible to the savings and earnings conditions attached. The biggest problem with this is that you have to include your whole household’s income or savings, so if a disabled person’s partner or parents earn too much they are automatically disqualified.

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This makes both incorrect and dangerous assumptions – firstly that one person’s income is enough for a family to live on but also that everyone lives with someone supportive who will provide for them. 

I’m a fierce campaigner against means-tested benefits disqualifying disabled people from applying because of their partner’s income, as not having this extra income can leave disabled people vulnerable to abuse with no way out.

However, even if they are eligible, many go through the often dehumanising ESA assessment process to be deemed fit for work and not disabled enough by assessors with no knowledge of their conditions.

I may not be in the poorest part of the population but I don’t receive means-tested benefits as my husband is deemed as earning too much. I’m “lucky” to be in a loving relationship now where my husband puts the lion’s share towards the bills with my freelance income topping it up. However, if it wasn’t for my parents I would’ve been stuck in a previously controlling and abusive relationship because my ex-partner’s income was deemed too much.

I’ve previously written for The Big Issue about how disabled people are disproportionately affected in the cost of living crisis. This is because we require more energy, our food is more expensive often our homes or communities aren’t accessible so we have to make expensive adaptations. 

The government, however, isn’t helping. Disabled people are starving because paying for the energy their life-saving equipment uses is more important to them. They can’t afford prescriptions of five items at £9.35 each when they could buy a couple of weeks of food with that £46.75 (at a pinch) and many of us aren’t receiving enough financial and lasting support.

This would be resolved if more people were able to receive “means-tested” benefits – but for that, the government would have to scrap the means-tested part and admit that all disabled people need support instead of forcing them into work that could kill them.

We need to reform who can apply for universal credit and ESA. Then we need to completely do away with the horrific assessments that serve more to prove how capable you are and not deserving of benefits. We also need a government that wants all disabled people to thrive, not just those who can financially contribute. 

But I can’t see that happening any time soon.

Rachel Charlton-Dailey is a freelance writer and disability activist. They are the founding editor of The Unwritten, a publication for disabled people to share their authentic experiences.

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