Charities warn number of disabled households in fuel poverty set to double by end of year

  • New warning by charities and campaigners on the impact of higher energy bills for disabled households across the UK.
  • New research highlights among the poorest fifth of households, disabled households allocate almost as twice as much of their expenditure in electricity, gas and fuels compared to those at the richest fifth households and are more than twice as likely to have a cold house and three times as likely to not have been able to afford food.
  • Disability equality charity Scope and fuel poverty charity National Energy Action (NEA) warn if average energy bills soar to £3,000 per annum as predicted 2.1 million households across the UK where one or more members are disabled, will be pushed into fuel poverty. This compares to 900,000 households today.
  • Energy bills hitting £3,000 by October, will also mean the cost of heating and powering an average home will have doubled in a 12-month period and the costs for heating homes with gas will have tripled in 18 months; leaving millions of disabled households facing impossible choices whether to heat their homes or leaving them unable to run or charge up medical equipment.

Mark Hodgkinson, Chief Executive at disability equality charity Scope said:

“These figures are a stark warning about how hard disabled people are going to be hit by rising energy prices and the cost of living crisis. Disabled people are already facing some extremely difficult choices. And this is only going to get worse in the months ahead unless action is taken now.

“Life costs more if you are disabled – many disabled people have no choice but to use energy to power vital medical equipment, keep their temperature stable or continually run household appliances. This cost-of-living crisis is compounded by the fact benefits are not increasing in line with inflation. People simply do not have enough money to live on.

“The Chancellor must act now to make sure that disabled people are not left out in the cold, by increasing the rates of benefits and targeting financial support at disabled households in fuel poverty.”

National Energy Action says that - as a minimum - low-income and vulnerable households, including those where members have a disability, should not have to pay back the UK Government’s planned ‘heat now, pay later’ rebate.

Adam Scorer, Chief Executive of fuel poverty charity National Energy Action (NEA) says:

“As heat prices spiral it is the most vulnerable who suffer the most. A warm, safe home is an absolute necessity for people with disabilities. The impact of a cold home on their mental and their physical health can be catastrophic. The current level of support is woefully inadequate. Government must provide greater financial support, or some of the most vulnerable in society will count the cost in more than just pounds and pence.”

Kamran Mallick, CEO Disability Rights UK, says:

“The UK is supposed to be levelling up, but poverty is deepening, especially within the disabled community. From food to fuel, the community is struggling to maintain basic human standards of living as benefits stagnate, prices rise, as any help and support offered is limited, weak or non-existent.

"Families of disabled children and disabled people trying to live an independent existence are on the cusp of real tragedy, the stark choices now being made on whether to heat or eat are very much real contrary to ministers’ rhetoric.

"Energy and food are not just luxuries, they are literal lifesavers for disabled people everywhere, the system cannot afford to keep turning away from a looming catastrophe of human proportions.”

Notes to editors:

National Energy Action works across England, Wales and Northern Ireland to ensure that everyone in the UK can afford to live in a warm, safe home. NEA has recently criticised the UK Government’s response to the current energy crisis, saying it is “woefully inadequate”.

Scope, the disability equality charity in England and Wales, provide practical information and emotional support when it's most needed, and campaign relentlessly to create a fairer society.

The findings in this release are based on Scope analysis of Living Costs and Food Survey 2019 to 2020 and an Opinium Research Ltd which polled 1,005 adults in England and Wales with a disability 858 adults in England and Wales from nondisabled households, between 14th and 19th January 2022.

Alongside similar unprecedented increases in Northern Ireland, the GB price cap is now being raised from 1st April, a jump of an additional £700 per year to leave the ‘average’ domestic energy bills at £2000, leaving a further 2 million households in fuel poverty. Due to reductions in household incomes, surging energy prices and relatively modest improvements in energy efficiency levels, charities estimate that the number of households in fuel poverty across the UK will increase to 6.5 million households in total in April, an increase of more than 50 per cent in just over six months. This projection is based on the 10 per cent definition of fuel poverty which gives a realistic picture of the scale of fuel poverty in periods of more volatile energy prices. On 24th February Investec Bank Ltd estimated the price cap on energy prices could spike another 50 per cent in October to more than £3,000 per household following huge gains in the wholesale natural gas and electricity markets.

Last month the UK Government released new fuel poverty statistics. These statistics do not capture the recently announced huge hikes in energy bills. However, despite a long lag in the Government data for England; these new statistics highlighted a lack of progress to meet the UK Government’s statutory fuel poverty commitments with warnings it will take over 60 years for the Government to meet its statutory fuel poverty commitments.

As well as addressing the worrying lack of sufficient emergency support for the energy crisis, the charities highlight in 2019 the Conservative party manifesto made a welcome commitment to help lower energy bills by investing £9.2bn in the energy efficiency of homes, schools and hospitals in England, including £2.5bn for the Home Upgrade Grant Scheme (HUG). HUG is vital as it targets low-income households in the least efficient, private tenure homes which are the most expensive to heat. But to date, less than half of the Government’s 2019 manifesto pledge has been committed. The UK Government also consulted last summer on welcome plans to extend and expand the Energy Company Obligation, Warm Home Discount and Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards in the Private Rented Sector. They say these proposals were warmly welcomed by key stakeholders, but there has now been a long delay to implement these policies and further hiatus will continue to badly damage the health, wealth and well-being of the poorest households.

The estimate for the cost of heating a home doubling in an 18-month period is based on an assumption that the proportion of increases in the price cap between electricity and gas prices is in line with the split of increases in October 2021 and April 2022. This is assumed because each increase is largely because of the same factor, an increase in the wholesale gas price.

The estimate for the number of disabled households in fuel poverty in October 2022 is based on an assumption that the proportion of fuel poor households with a disability remains constant. Scope found in 2018 that 900,000 disabled households were living in fuel poverty, approximately 25 per cent of the total number. This is extrapolated to October 2022, where NEA estimates that the number of fuel poor households could increase to more than 8 million.

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