Cost of Living: Financial Support for Disabled People Debate

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Department: Department for Work and Pensions

Cost of Living: Financial Support for Disabled People

Vicky Foxcroft Excerpts
Monday 22nd May 2023

(1 year ago)

Westminster Hall
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Vicky Foxcroft Portrait Vicky Foxcroft (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab)
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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)
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I remind hon. Members that there may be a Division shortly. If that is the case, I will suspend the sitting for 15 minutes.

--- Later in debate ---
Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
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I will happily elaborate on those points. A lot of points were raised during the debate that I will respond to directly, but we are of course determined that the support must get to those who need it the most. That underpins the entire ethos behind the package of support that is being provided, and I will come to some of the specifics that have been raised shortly. As I said earlier, by 2027-28 total disability benefit spending is forecast to be over £41 billion higher in real terms compared with 2010-11. Spending on the extra cost disability benefits will alone amount to some £35 billion this year, all paid tax-free in addition to any other support, financial or practical, that disabled individuals may receive.

On the point raised by the hon. Member for Putney (Fleur Anderson), I will happily meet her and the charity to which she referred. I am always happy to meet colleagues. I think that colleagues would say that I am always willing to engage as a Minister, and that I try my best to say yes to as many requests as possible. It is really important to hear the experiences of disabled people and their representative organisations, so that we have a constructive dialogue, as the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft), indicated is important. I completely accept that, and it is reflected in the work that I do, and the engagement that I have week to week. I will happily say yes to that engagement with the hon. Member for Putney. She talked about evaluation of the adequacy of the cost of living payments. I can confirm, as I did in our debate last week, that the Department is planning to do an evaluation relating to the cost of living payments later this year.

Vicky Foxcroft Portrait Vicky Foxcroft
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What the Minister says about an evaluation is interesting. I have asked many parliamentary questions and made freedom of information requests and so forth around the Government publishing and being open and transparent with their evaluations. When that evaluation takes place, will he ensure that it is published?

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
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I will happily take away the shadow Minister’s request for publication of the evaluation.

Vicky Foxcroft Portrait Vicky Foxcroft
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Is that a no?