Parliament is set to debate whether the government has adequately supported chronically ill and disabled people during the cost of living crisis. It’s come about thanks to two petitions, which secured the session in the House of Commons. The campaigners behind the petitions believe the government still hasn’t done enough to support people. So, they’re hoping the debate in parliament will prompt further action. However, it needs people affected by the government’s lack of support to submit evidence for it.
Cost of living support: excluding over one million people
Rachel Curtis is a campaigner for disability and carer rights. In 2022, she joined forces with unpaid carer organisation We Care Campaign to launch a parliamentary petition. It was around the government’s first response to the cost of living crisis. At the time, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) was giving additional payments to people on means-tested benefits like Universal Credit. However, as the Canary reported in July 2022, these payments weren’t reaching everyone. The DWP was excluding around:
- 433,000 Housing Benefit claimants.
- 523,000 Carer’s Allowance claimants.
- 568,000 Personal Independent Payment (PIP) and Disability Living Allowance (DLA) claimants.
Specifically, the department excluded PIP/DLA claimants who weren’t also on means-tested benefits – instead giving them just £150. Meanwhile, it gave people on Carer’s Allowance nothing. As Katy Styles from the We Care Campaign told the Canary:
Government support simply didn’t go far enough. For people on non means-tested benefits they received an extra £150. For those on means tested benefits they received an extra £650. For carers on Carer’s Allowance there was no additional support. It was a drop in the ocean in terms of paying the increased energy costs for disabled families. For those families facing higher energy bills it meant cutting back on basic essentials and making impossible choices to keep vital equipment running as their energy bills rose.
DWP: ‘grossly unjust’
So, Curtis and the We Care Campaign launched a petition. It called on the government to provide an “energy grant” for chronically ill and disabled people, and their carers. The petition stated:
Many people need to use a ventilator 24/7. People use electric pumps to feed through […] tubes. People need to charge their mobility equipment, such as electric wheelchairs, stair lifts, bath seats.
The Government needs to provide a grant, so that people with a disability or serious medical condition can afford to run the equipment, or heating, they need to stay alive. It is not right that people living with conditions that require energy, should be punished for it, and sometimes face unmanageable debts with energy companies. What a horrendous situation to face. If some people don’t run their ventilator, CPAP machine or feeding pump they will die.
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Curtis told the Canary that she launched the petition because:
I run a community association, Northern Lights, that supports families who have a child with additional needs, or a disability, in Northumberland.
As the energy prices rose I began to see everyone struggling to afford to pay their bills. Families with a disabled member use more electricity, whether that be for electric wheelchairs, hoists, lifts, CPAP machines or having to run heating constantly for chronic lung conditions. I feel it is grossly unjust that families like mine are being taken advantage of by energy companies. We have to use more energy. We have no choice.
Usually, petitions need to reach 100,000 signatures for the committee in charge of them to consider a parliamentary debate. However, on this occasion it made an exception – seemingly because there was also another petition on top of Curtis’s which made a similar point.
Chronically ill and disabled people, and carers: get involved
So, there will now be a debate in parliament at 4:30pm on Monday 22 May. For this, the Petitions Committee wants to hear from people affected by government policy. It stated that it:
would like to hear from you about your experiences of and views on the cost of living and financial support for disabled people.
Share your views with by completing our survey, by 31 March:
A summary of responses will be published on the Parliament website. It will also be shared with MPs and may be referred to in the debate or within other parliamentary documents. Please don’t share anything that may identify you.
Styles told the Canary that the We Care Campaign has a fairly straightforward action it would like the government to take:
A social energy tariff for families like ours makes sense. We want discounted energy bills for disabled people and their carers who have higher energy costs. It’s through debates like this upcoming one, that disabled families and carers’ voices are heard and will help to explain why a social tariff is so needed.
‘It is criminal’
Meanwhile, Curtis told the Canary:
I am hoping this debate will highlight the dire situation so many families are in right now. Our government should be fighting to protect disabled citizens from being forced to hand over all our income to energy companies for electricity and gas we need to stay well, and in some cases, alive. It is criminal. It’s vitally important that disabled people are able to run the equipment we need. Energy companies must be forced to stop profiteering from us and set affordable, low tariffs for families like mine.
Parliamentary debates from petitions have no power to make the government act. However, they can put pressure on the government to act. They also have the power to raise awareness of an issue. Moreover, they give people with lived experience of issues a chance to have their views put on record. So, if you can share your views, do – and they might be included in the debate on 22 May.
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