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Fuel Poverty is a Disability Justice Issue

Updated: Feb 2


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Graphic over an orange background. The words 'Fuel Poverty is a Disability Justice Issue' are in bold, black text in the centre, framed by blotchy, hazy snowflakes.

Today is Fuel Poverty Awareness Day (FPAD). For those already living in Fuel Poverty or experiencing financial insecurity, the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement and Ofgem’s price cap announcements last week might have been worrying to hear. This blog will talk you through what Fuel Poverty is and why Disabled people are disproportionately affected by it. Most importantly, we have included a list of local and national services that can offer support to those struggling.



What is Fuel Poverty?

National Energy Action (NEA) define Fuel Poverty as occurring when a household must spend ‘10% or more of its income on energy, in order to maintain a satisfactory heating (or cooling) regime’. The recent rise of Fuel Poverty in Great Britain has been caused by an interaction between three main factors: low household income, high fuel prices, and poor energy efficiency in housing across the UK. Britain has some of the most energy inefficient housing in Europe, which makes our homes more expensive to heat. The impacts of Fuel Poverty can be far-reaching. In a literature review, York University found that ‘there is a clear link between the effects of fuel poverty and health; some existing health conditions are exacerbated by under heating; there is a link between fuel poverty and mental health, with both cold itself and a fear of debt and high bills being linked to depression and anxiety.’ Many people across East Anglia are struggling to stay warm and pay their energy bills, with almost 75,000 households in Suffolk and one in ten households in Norfolk estimated to be Fuel Poor.

Why is Fuel Poverty a Disability Justice Issue?

Disabled people are twice as likely as their non-disabled counterparts to be experiencing poverty. This is due to many reasons, one being that Disabled people are subject to additional costs; effectively a tax on disability, known as the Disability Price Tag. Scope found that, in 2023, the Disability Price Tag comes to an average of almost a thousand pounds a month. Contributors to these additional costs include:

  • Delivery costs

  • Soaring care charges

  • Mobility aids

  • Daily living aids (such as dressing aids, carrying aids, safety aids, screen readers, kitchen utensils, and light switches)

  • Home and car adaptations (such as ergonomic taps, grab rails, widened doorways, ramps, shower seats, and baths with easy access doors)

  • Specialist dietary products, ready meals or pre-chopped food items

  • Continence products

  • Additional medical costs (such as supplements, medications, or therapies not offered by the NHS)

  • Paying extra for the access non-disabled people get included (such as accessible hotel rooms).

  • The cost of insuring all this expensive equipment!

Disabled people's expenditure on energy is often higher than that of non-disabled people due to extra costs such as:

  • Longer necessary periods of central heating use, (many rheumatological, dermatological, vascular and respiratory conditions are exacerbated by cold)

  • Running assistive-powered technology (stair-lifts, powered wheelchairs, hoists, rise and recline chairs and beds)

  • Medication storage (for example, in a separate fridge)

  • Extra laundry cycles.

These extra day-to-day costs Disabled people incur are even harder to manage due to:

  • Social care funding cuts and deficits in care sector staff

  • The cost-of-living crisis ('heat or eat' is the reality for many Disabled people)

  • Benefit sanctions

  • A lack of accessible employment (and funding cuts to services that support Disabled people in accessing work)

  • A lack of accessible housing means Disabled people are more likely to live in poor housing conditions that disable them further

  • A lack of accessible transport (limiting ability to work, socialise and access warm-spaces or food-banks)

  • The stress associated with the aforementioned points, and its impact on the body and mind.

Living in Fuel Poverty can often be a distressing and isolating experience. If you are in Fuel Poverty, please know that you are not alone, and there are people and services out there to help you.


If you are struggling to keep warm this winter, here is a list of resources that might be able to help:


- Arianne Brown


Sources

  1. National Energy Action (NEA) Fuel Poverty Awareness Day

  2. The Chancellor's Autumn Statement 2023

  3. Ofgem's Changes to Energy Price Cap announcement

  4. House of Lords Library 'Cost of living: Impact of rising costs on disabled people' (Dec 2022)

  5. Institute for government, Britain's energy inefficient housing stock (Sept 2022)

  6. Joseph Rowntree Foundation 'UK Poverty 2023: The essential guide to understanding poverty in the UK' report (Jan 2023)

  7. Norfolk County Council, Norfolk Insight 'Rising Cost of Living in Norfolk' (Jan 2023)

  8. University of Bristol's Personal Finance Research Centre 'The inequality of poverty: exploring the link between the poverty premium and protected characteristics' report (Feb 2021)

  9. The University of York: Department for Social Policy and Social Work 'Fuel Poverty and disabled people:the impact of policy change'

  10. Money Saving Expert, 'What is the Energy Price Cap?'

  11. Scope's research on the Disability Price Tag

  12. Guardian article 'It’s a tax on disability’: rising English social care costs force many into debt' (May 2023).

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