Disabled people still falling through the cracks after missing out on crucial financial support
A vital lifeline, intended by the government for people who might otherwise ‘fall through the cracks’ of other cost of living support measures, is not reaching disabled households in many areas of England, new research by the charity Leonard Cheshire has found.
- Disabled people miss out on fair share of £2.5 billion Household Support Fund.
- People face Household Support Fund postcode lottery in England.
This is despite guidance from the government encouraging local authorities to target help to low-income disabled people with the Household Support Fund, as part of its £2.5bn funding package.
The government’s guidance cites the ‘disproportionate impact’ of rising costs on disabled people, which should be considered in the way the funding is used within communities.
Worryingly, only 9% of recent Household Support Fund spending by local authorities across England went to households with a disabled person during the study period. Just £11.5m of £133m spent between October and December 2022 was targeted in this way.
Meanwhile, only 17% of all local authorities had even ringfenced any of the funding for disabled people who need financial support. The charity obtained the information after it sent freedom of information requests to 152 local authorities in England, with 120 responding.
Karren,* a disabled respondent from Cheshire, told Leonard Cheshire staff that she is struggling with bills and often very cold, but afraid to turn on the heating.
“I am completely unaware of the Household Support Fund, and this has never been discussed with me by anyone from my local authority. So I'm not entirely sure what additional support is out there.
"I would plead with the Government to support disabled people like me with energy bills so that we can live normally. I'm paying £300-400 a month on additional bills and I don’t know how I'm going to survive the next winter. I’d also ask for more support around transport because prices have gone up since the cost of living crisis and this prevents me from travelling, which I really need.”
Another disabled respondent, Brian*, told the disability charity:
“It’s very difficult to keep up with the higher cost of living. We can only have the heating on for 3 days out of 5 and we’re having beans on toast for Sunday roast.”
Meanwhile, Kate*, told the charity:
“The only support we have is from my brother and a couple of friends. And we have received the cost of living payments but they have just been swallowed up by higher prices on everything.”
Following the government’s extension of the Household Support Fund in 2022, both Rishi Sunak and then Jeremy Hunt said it would support "those who might otherwise fall through the cracks.” Yet Leonard Cheshire’s research suggests otherwise.
With soaring prices affecting everyone, disabled people continue to be disproportionately impacted by the cost of living crisis. Studies indicate government support does not meet the extra costs of life as disabled person. Disabled people faced many additional costs, including charging or repairing vital disability equipment and heating homes to manage their condition, even before prices started rising. These extra costs could now reach an average of £975 every month for disabled households.**
Meanwhile, ONS statistics reveal more than half (56%) of disabled people are struggling to afford their energy bills, and 1 in 3 (38%) are finding it difficult to afford their rent or mortgage payments.***
Many disabled people are being pushed to breaking point by the cost of living crisis. With the Household Support Fund set to run until March 2024, there is a short window of opportunity to ensure more of the £1bn left reaches more disabled people in desperate need of further support. But this requires robust action and support from Government, as well as changes in approaches by local authorities.
Access to the Household Support Fund for disabled households varied hugely across England, Leonard Cheshire’s research found. Some local authorities allocated as much as 39% of this fund’s spending for disabled households, demonstrating some good practice. Others had spent nothing at all to date, although some of these councils said they had earmarked future spending for disabled people.
Several factors contributed to the fund failing to reach disabled households, including the fund being stretched too thinly to address people’s needs, inadequate enforcement of government guidelines, and accessibility issues in local application processes. The Work and Pensions Committee heard from witnesses in April that the fund is being used to plug gaps in the social security system****.
Amy Little, Head of Influencing at Leonard Cheshire, said:
“The cost of living crisis means disabled people are having to make impossible choices every day, with many becoming increasingly desperate. The mostly universal nature of the government's support fails to recognise that life costs more if you’re disabled. We are finding that many are falling through the cracks and missing out on vital financial help.
"There is an urgent need for stronger and more comprehensive measures to help address the extra costs that disabled people experience, so that it’s possible to manage when faced with unprecedented financial pressures. The Household Support Fund and wider government support seem to be failing to reach many disabled individuals and families with the greatest needs.”
Still Falling Through the Cracks
The Household Support Fund is for people who "fall through the cracks" of other cost of living support measures. But our research has found only 9% of the fund had reached disabled household.
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Notes to editors
- * Some names have been changed at the request of survey respondents.
- ** Scope, Disability Price Tag 2023: the extra cost of disability.
- *** ONS, 'Impact of increased cost of living on adults across Great Britain' dataset September 2022 to January 2023.
- **** Work and Pensions Committee, Oral evidence: Household Support Fund, HC 1273, 26 April 2023.
The Household Support Fund
The Household Support Fund was first announced as part of the Autumn Budget in September 2021, and provided £421m of funding to be delivered by English local authorities, with separate funding for devolved nations.
Initial guidance stipulated that at least 50% be spent on households with children, and for the focus to be on supporting with food and bills rather than housing costs. By March 2022, with the country heading into full cost of living crisis and rising energy bills, it was extended to September 2022, alongside other measures. Then Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, noted that the universal nature of the Government’s support package meant "there may be some people who fall between the cracks. So, to support them, we will extend the Household Support Fund by half a billion pounds.”
Local authorities were required to allocate at least 33% each of their total spend to pensioner households and households with children. In the leadup to the Autumn Statement Leonard Cheshire consistently emphasised the need for more targeted support for disabled people. Rather than designing and delivering new measures to support disabled people, the Household Support Fund was extended until March 2024, taking its total cost to £2.5bn. Guidance to local authorities was however updated so that disabled people were explicitly mentioned for the first time, encouraging local authorities to consider the “disproportionate impact that rising costs bring for the additional services they need in order to manage their conditions, remain independent and avoid becoming socially isolated."
In his Autumn Statement 2022, the current chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, again promised it would help “Local Authorities to assist those who might otherwise fall through the cracks.” £1bn of funding remains to be spent by April 2024, meaning there is still a chance to ensure much more of this reaches disabled people in need. Leonard Cheshire is calling on the Government and local authorities to support disabled people facing higher bills and costs this year.
Leonard Cheshire’s research
As the Household Support Fund is now a key part in the Government’s cost of living response, Leonard Cheshire undertook a Freedom of Information exercise to analyse whether this money was reaching disabled people; the charity also sought to discover what decisions local authorities were making with this funding to help support disabled people.
In December 2022, Leonard Cheshire sent Freedom of Information requests to all 152 English local authorities who were administering the third tranche of the fund seeking details about how the fund was operating and to what extent funding was reaching disabled people. The period these requests for information covered was from 1 October to 31 December 2022.
In total, Leonard Cheshire received responses from 120 local authorities with information in response to our request (79% response rate).
Among all local authorities who responded, £133m of their total funding had been spent, but only £11.5m had been targeted towards households that contained a disabled person. This means that by the halfway point of the third tranche of funding, only 9% of the money that had been spent reached disabled people struggling with the cost-of-living crisis.