Disabled people need to see a social tariff on energy

Gemma Hope

Gemma Hope, our Director of Policy, examines what recent political developments will mean for disabled people, including this week’s Budget and the Health and Disability White Paper.

Jonathan using a washing machine at Eden Square

After a challenging winter, disabled people across the UK were looking for some early spring optimism from the latest Budget. But this didn’t really happen. Although we acknowledge there were some encouraging measures, the government still left major gaps in support for disabled people in key areas.

Cost of living and energy

There was some limited good news here. The Energy Price Guarantee will stay at the same level for another three months – a welcome decision. But we worry disabled people will still be left out in the cold. Some disabled people need warm homes to manage their conditions and have specialist disability equipment that needs powering and charging. And all of this requires a lot more energy. This means that in the coming year, disabled high energy users will face £1000 more in annual energy bills than the average household.

We think the government missed a huge opportunity to introduce a Social Tariff – a discounted energy scheme targeted at people with high energy use. This concept is supported by Ofgem, Energy UK and the majority of organisations working with people who are struggling to pay their energy bills. Current support just isn't enough to help cover sky-high costs.

With the cost of food still at record levels, disabled people continue to face really difficult choices in order to survive. Some are pushed to access food banks, or to buy less healthy food options because these are cheaper. On our podcast The Disability Download we recently spoke to Martin, who has autism and a visual impairment, about food banks and the cost-of-living crisis.

Martin said: "I'd love to buy healthy stuff. I know what I should eat. But to buy the healthy stuff costs twice more than what it would to buy the rubbish stuff, if you know what I mean."

Back in 2022, we conducted research which showed more than 600,000 disabled people in the UK were already estimated to have £10 or less per week to pay for food and other costs. Since then, the need for more targeted support remains, with food and essentials still at high prices.

More funding for social care is simply essential. Disabled people cannot wait any longer.

Social Care

It was really disappointing to see no extra money announced for social care in this week’s Budget. A chronic lack of funding and a workforce crisis means disabled people are left without crucial support, missing out on basic personal care and independence: some cannot have a wash, let alone go out to meet family and friends.

We’ve pointed out a few times that when current Chancellor Jeremy Hunt was head of the Health and Social Care Committee, he said social care needed at least £7 billion per year just to fill the funding gaps. Last year’s Autumn Statement did not provide this. And the latest Budget gave nothing more.

The government’s recent Fair Cost of Care exercise looked at older people in social care, revealing an alarming annual £2.3 billion black hole in care funding. From our experience at Leonard Cheshire, providing social care to over 3,000 disabled adults, we know the system is woefully underfunded. The government must urgently repeat this exercise for all working-age disabled adults, and then quickly fill the inevitable funding gap.

Every disabled person should be able to draw on high-quality social care that meets their needs, supporting them to live their life and achieve their goals. In 2022 the government said it would put “people at the heart of care”.

We are still yet to see the funding to deliver on that vision.

Employment schemes for disabled people

At Leonard Cheshire we have a tradition of fantastic employment programmes, like our Change 100 internship scheme. And we’ve long called for the government to invest in more specialist employment support for disabled people, as seen in our Still Locked Out research conducted in 2021.

So, it was encouraging to see the government’s new commitment to the Universal Support programme. The scheme matches people with job vacancies in England and Wales, providing workplace training and support. We look forward to seeing more details on this in the near future.

When designing new systems, the government must consult disabled people and those with health conditions.

Health and Disability White Paper

As announced in this week’s Budget, one major element of the new Health and Disability White Paper is the ending of the Work Capability Assessment. This will come as a relief to many disabled people, who felt the assessment penalised people unfairly.

Any new system to decide someone’s ability to work will take a few years to come in, and that’s too long! Still, we’ll keep a close eye on the proposed Universal Credit health element: this could potentially leave some disabled people at risk of unfairly receiving lower payments, being forced to look for work when they can’t, as well as facing ineffective sanctions.

Any new system must show a better understanding of people with chronic health conditions and fluctuating conditions. It seems the benefit Personal Independence Payment (PIP) could be used as a gateway to vital out-of-work financial support. And if that’s the case, the PIP assessment system requires urgent improvement so disabled people don’t miss out. That’s why we’ve said that when designing new systems, the government must consult disabled people and those with health conditions.

If you're worried that changes will negatively affect you, there are reasons to be reassured. It will take some time (as in years) for any changes to take effect., and we’ll push the government to make sure they take the opportunity to get this right.

We call on the government to introduce a social tariff as soon as possible as part of more targeted support for disabled people. More funding for social care is simply essential.

Disabled people cannot wait any longer.

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