Cost of Living: Financial Support for Disabled People Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Department for Work and Pensions

Cost of Living: Financial Support for Disabled People

Mark Hendrick Excerpts
Monday 22nd May 2023

(1 year ago)

Westminster Hall
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts

Westminster Hall is an alternative Chamber for MPs to hold debates, named after the adjoining Westminster Hall.

Each debate is chaired by an MP from the Panel of Chairs, rather than the Speaker or Deputy Speaker. A Government Minister will give the final speech, and no votes may be called on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Vicky Foxcroft Portrait Vicky Foxcroft (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Sir Robert, and I am grateful for the opportunity to respond on behalf of the shadow Work and Pensions team. Like the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows), I may repeat some stuff from last week, but it is important to do so, because we need changes so that we do not have to keep coming back and debating this issue. There is no doubt that disabled people are being disproportionately impacted by the cost of living crisis, and it is right—sadly—that we are debating it again in this place.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova) for her passionate opening contribution, for sharing the experiences of so many people and for explaining why it is unacceptable that people live in those situations in 2023. Like her and others, I thank Abigail and Katy for organising the petition. I also pay tribute to the countless disabled people, friends, families, advocates, disabled people’s organisations and charities who signed the petitions that triggered this debate and who campaign tirelessly to promote disabled people’s rights.

The hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) eloquently put forward the extra costs of having a disability. As he said, the costs will vary, depending on an individual’s specific disability, but they may include assistive equipment, care and therapies. As noted in one of the petitions that triggered the debate, some people may need to run ventilators, pumps for feeding tubes and CPAP machines, and so the list goes on.

Disabled households tend to spend more on essential goods and services such as heating, food and travel, and some disabled people find it difficult to keep warm if their movement is restricted. As my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) said, those costs are also borne by unpaid carers, and we must look at the We Care Campaign. Some disabled people might need to purchase more expensive foods if they have specific dietary requirements or have difficulty preparing raw ingredients. As we know, high inflation in 2022 and 2023 has been driven by high food and energy costs. It stands to reason that disabled people are among those most affected by the cost of living crisis.

Last month, as my hon. Friends the Members for Battersea, for Worsley and Eccles South, and for Blaydon (Liz Twist) said, disability equality charity Scope released updated research on the extra costs associated with having a disability—the so-called disability price tag. When Scope last calculated the price tag in 2019, it stood at £583 per month; over the past four years, it has risen to a shocking £975 per month, equivalent to 63% of household income. That means that disabled households need to find almost £12,000 extra per year to achieve the same standard of living as non-disabled households.

My hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Fleur Anderson) articulated the challenges for young people with cancer: not having built up a safety net; the extra costs they face; and, particularly, many missing hospital appointments due to not being able to afford their travel costs. That is wasting money in the system, as well as delaying essential treatment. It is heartbreaking.

[Sir Mark Hendrick in the Chair]

The impact of such rising costs is exacerbated further by the fact that disabled people also tend to have lower than average earnings. In a January 2023 report, the Resolution Foundation found that the gap in household income between adults with and without a disability was about 30% including disability benefits and 44% excluding them.

As we know, disabled people who are not able to work are entitled to claim income replacement benefits. In addition, all disabled people can claim extra-costs benefits to help cover the extra costs of having a disability. I am sure that the Minister, when he responds, will remind us that in his autumn statement the Chancellor committed to uprating benefits in line with inflation. That, however, only took effect from the start of the 2023-24 financial year. No doubt, the Minister present will also tell us that the Government have taken steps to support disabled people through the crisis by delivering the disability cost of living payments. As my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon said, however, 80% of disabled people said that that was not enough to live on.

At a similar debate last week, I reminded the Minister that hundreds of thousands of people are no longer entitled to the warm home discount—many Members have mentioned that today—since the Government excluded those who claim disability living allowance, the personal independence payment and attendance allowance. I therefore hope he responds to our many questions about that.

In addition, Disability Rights UK and many others have said that the lack of meaningful increases in disability benefits over recent years means that the extra support given to disabled people has barely touched the sides. Trussell Trust figures show that even in early 2020, 62% of working-age people referred to food banks were disabled. A Mencap survey revealed that 35% of people with a learning disability have skipped meals to cut back on costs and that 38% had not turned on their heating despite being cold.

My hon. Friends the Members for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) and for Battersea talked of the importance of incorporating the UNCRPD into law, so I will finish with what I said last week, because it relates to that: I ask the Minister to commit to work closely with disabled people and disabled people’s organisations to find a solution to this crisis.

Mark Hendrick Portrait Sir Mark Hendrick (in the Chair)
- Hansard - -

I remind hon. Members that there may be a Division shortly. If that is the case, I will suspend the sitting for 15 minutes.

Tom Pursglove Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Tom Pursglove)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Mark. May I begin by thanking the hon. Member for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova) for introducing this debate? We do not always agree on everything, but she undoubtedly speaks with great passion about these issues. I also thank Abigail and Katy for the work they have done to bring forward these petitions.

I thank Members from across the House for their heartfelt and thorough contributions. There is no question that any right hon. Member or hon. Member is not acutely mindful of the enormous pressures and challenges that people feel in the current climate. It is right that we come together and debate these issues. We debated them last week and are doing so again. I have no doubt there will be further opportunities going forward.

I want to set out the picture on disability benefit spending more generally to put the debate in context. Then I will go on to explain the package of support we have in place and the work that is ongoing to respond to the many issues that have been raised today. It is worth saying that we will spend around £77 billion in 2023-24 on benefits to support disabled people and people with health conditions, which is around 3.1% of GDP. In 2023-24, spending on PIP, DLA and attendance allowance will be £12.5 billion higher in real terms than in 2010. Total disability benefit spend in 2027-28 is forecast to be over £39.8 billion higher in real terms compared to 2010. This is despite Scottish disability spend being devolved in 2020-21.

That is not to minimise for a moment the challenges that households face in the current climate, particularly those that include members who are disabled. The difficulties they are experiencing at this time, particularly around energy affordability and the cost of living, are pressing. All of us are familiar with the root causes of costs being higher. The situation in Ukraine is a significant one, and it has resulted undoubtedly in energy market volatility. That has translated into households here in the UK being put under real strain.

I said this last week, but it is important to get it on the record again: we as Ministers are not complacent. We are adamant that vulnerable energy users must be able to afford their bills, and we recognise that there are inevitably higher costs associated with many of those households’ usage. That is why the Chancellor and the Prime Minister acted decisively to introduce the cost of living payments and provide structured support worth over £94 billion in 2022-23 and 2023-24. That is an average of over £3,300 per UK household.

As was mentioned in a number of contributions, we have also uprated benefits in line with inflation at 10.1%, which was the right thing to do. We listened to the views of disabled people, their representative groups, Members in this House and our constituents across the country, regardless of which party we represent. We concluded, having listened to the compelling arguments, that the right thing to do was to uprate benefits in line with inflation.

The Government prioritised paying cost of living payments worth up to £1,100 for some households during the 2022-23 financial year. The Department for Work and Pensions can be proud of the work that officials did to help us to ensure that the payment hit people’s bank accounts. Some 30 million cost of living payments were paid during the course of last year, including 8 million households receiving up to £650 across two payments, over 8 million pensioner households —[Interruption.]

Mark Hendrick Portrait Sir Mark Hendrick (in the Chair)
- Hansard - -

Order. As I said earlier, the sitting is suspended for 15 minutes for a Division in the House. If there is another Division, we will suspend for 25 minutes.

--- Later in debate ---
On resuming—
Mark Hendrick Portrait Sir Mark Hendrick (in the Chair)
- Hansard - -

Order. The sitting is resumed. The debate may now continue until 7.45 pm.

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Resuming from where I left off, over 8 million pensioner households received an additional £300 on top of their winter fuel payments in 2022-23, and 6 million who were entitled to an extra cost benefit, such as a personal independence payment or an adult disability payment in Scotland, received £150.

The wider package of support for the financial year included the energy price guarantee, which capped fuel bills at £2,500 for average use. Colleagues from across the House will recognise that that support has been extended until next month. The package also included the £400 off domestic electricity bills received by every household in Great Britain, and the council tax reductions for bands A to D in England.

One part of our overall package that I think is particularly important is the household support fund, which we extended twice. Including support for the devolved Administrations in terms of consequential funding, the total has been £1.5 billion since October 2021. It is important discretionary help, which is designed specifically to allow local authorities to work with people in their communities whose particular needs are not necessarily able to be met through the wider structured package of support. This sensible, discretionary support can be provided locally on a case-by-case basis to the people who need it. It is a significant and important part of the support package, which reflects the fact that people’s circumstances are often complicated and do not fit into neat boxes.

I will turn to cost of living support for 2023-24. Again, colleagues will recall the Chancellor setting out in the autumn statement our intentions for the support package for the year ahead. Eight million low-income families on means-tested benefits will get £900. My Department has already delivered 99% of the first cost of living payment of £301 to the 7.3 million households in receipt of a means-tested benefit such as universal credit. That represents payments to a value of £2.2 billion.

The hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows) suggested that not much has changed since we met last week. However, I am able to provide one update that last Friday, my hon. Friend the Minister for Social Mobility, Youth and Progression laid in Parliament the regulations that will allow us to pay an additional £150 to more than 6.5 million people on an extra cost disability benefit. Those payments will land in people’s bank accounts starting from 20 June. That is important help, and I am pleased that we are now able to give certainty around the timetable. We have also laid regulations that will allow pensioner households to get an additional £300 on top of their annual winter fuel payment this winter, as they did last year.

I recognise that one of the petitions focused specifically on the disability cost of living payment, and arguments about its adequacy. I want to reiterate what I said in the debate last week, because the statistics on this are quite significant. I want to stress that the rationale for each of the cost of living payments is different. The Government believe it is right that the highest amount goes to those on means-tested benefits, given that those on the lowest incomes are most vulnerable to rises in the cost of living. Having said that, we estimate that nearly 60% of individuals who receive an extra cost disability benefit will receive additional support through the means-tested benefit payment. Over 85% will receive either or both of the means-tested and pensioner benefits, which goes in some ways to the heart of the debate.

I assure hon. Members that we are absolutely committed to ensuring that disabled people and people with health conditions receive the support that they need. That is why in 2022-23 we spent nearly £69 billion in real terms on benefits to support disabled people and people with health conditions. We will continue that throughout 2023-24 by uprating disability benefits in line with last September’s CPI inflation figure, as I have set out, meaning that we expect to spend around £78 billion in 2023-24—3.1% of GDP.