Written evidence from the Leonard Cheshire CLP0044


Leonard Cheshire response



1. Introduction


1.1 Leonard Cheshire is one of the UK’s leading charities supporting disabled people. We support individuals to live, learn and earn as independently as they choose, whatever their ability and to play our part in creating a fair and inclusive society. Led by people with experience of disability, we are at the heart of local life — providing opportunity, choice and support in the communities we work in.


2. To what extent have the cost of living support payments been sufficient at helping eligible households meet the cost of essentials such as food and electricity?


2.1 To date the cost of living support payments have been far from sufficient in helping disabled households meet the rising costs of food and energy. Heading into the crisis, our research in February 2022 found that 1 in 4 working-age disabled people had skipped meals and couldn't afford to keep their homes warm, while 600,000 disabled people had £10 or less left a week to pay for food & essentials.[1] Since then the situation has only worsened for disabled people often with devastating consequences. ONS statistics reveal that more than half (55%) of disabled people are struggling to afford their energy bills and 1 in 3 (36%) are finding it difficult to afford their rent or mortgage payments.[2]


2.2 Many disabled people face extra costs associated with their impairment or condition, which can include higher energy bills due to charging specialist equipment like wheelchairs or to continuously requiring the heating on, or higher food bills when requiring specialist diets. During the cost of living crisis these extra costs have only risen, and Government financial support has failed to keep up.


2.3 The only targeted support for disabled people, distinct from all those on means-tested benefits has been the one off payment of £150 for 2022/23 and forthcoming payment of £150 again for 2023/24. Disabled households whose conditions necessitate high energy use, have bills that are nearly £1000 more than the average household a year.[3] As a result these payments have left some disabled people still struggling to meet the costs of their bills, and in some cases have left them no better off at all. As of last year, the Government has changed the qualifying criteria for the Warm Home Discount scheme which entitles disabled people on low incomes annually to £150 to help with energy bills over the winter. This has meant that 290,000 disabled people claiming Personal Independence Payment (PIP) no longer qualify for support, cancelling out the £300 disability payments they will receive.


2.4 As a result of being simply unable to cover their energy costs, disabled people have told us they have rationed their heating, been fearful of using hot showers and resorting to cold water to wash themselves and wearing multiple layers of clothing to try and keep warm. For others cutting back simply isn’t an option without it impacting on their health, 61% of people with dexterity conditions say they need to keep the heating on more due to their disability.[4]


“From just being able to survive with creative cost cutting, it has now become impossible. Now choices have to be made because of the exorbitant cost of energy such as only eating foods that do not need cooking, not using hair dryers to dry hair, wearing the same clothes for many days so as to limit the need to use the washing machine.


“I have to choose between heating or eating. I am eating one meal a day. I also have lots of electrical machinery that always has to be connected to electricity, this in turn makes my energy bills higher leaving little money to live on.”


2.5 Latest figures show that food prices have risen 19.2% in the year to March 2023, which will significantly impact on the day to day spending of disabled people going forward, as well as having caused clear harm to date. Disabled people have told us that they are skipping meals as they cannot afford three meals a day or are forced to make other difficult choices like only eating bread or cereal or being unable to afford health food. Such diets can have negative impacts on disabled people’s health. One person told us an unhealthy diet as a result of the cost of living crisis was affecting their diabetes, which led to a vicious cycle of needing to attend hospital appointments more regularly, which cost a lot of money to attend due to high transport costs.


“The cost of living has meant my grocery bill has doubled. I am now choosing whether to buy basics of milk, bread and not opting to buy any fruit. This is having an impact on my health and wellbeing.”


3. What role have the following factors played in access to the cost of living support payments:


3.1 Receiving a nil reward on a Universal Credit payment, due to reasons such as sanctioning


3.1.1 Since the resumption of sanctions in July 2020 following their brief pause during the early months of the pandemic, the total percentage of people on Universal Credit with work-search requirements has risen dramatically. After reaching a record high of 6.83% in October 2022, and now stands at 6.51% according to latest figures.[5] This high rate of sanctions has impacted the number of claimants eligible to receive cost of living payments linked to Universal Credit, as a nil award during any qualifying period deems them ineligible for the related payment.


3.1.2 6,600 people did not receive the first 2022/23 cost of living payment of £326 in July 2022 as a result of a sanction.[6] It is unclear how many if any of those thousands of claimants were disabled people, but even one is too many, given sanctions already cause extreme stress, push claimants into hardship and debt and risk worsening health.[7] The withdrawal of vital financial support during the cost of living crisis alongside this amounts to a double punishment for what can be a single infringement.


3.1.3. In 98% of the cases where a sanction was applied in the 3 months prior to October 2022 (including the full qualifying period for the second 2022/23 payment of £324) it was for failing to attend a mandatory Jobcentre appointment. Our research has shown, however, that the DWP is often failing in its duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people, which could make attending such appointments more difficult. The most common requests made by disabled people are to change the time or date of a meeting (49%) or its location (46%), yet a third said their requests were never provided (34%) and a further third (33%) said they were only some of the time.[8]


“What irks me most is the decision makers who have such power to suspend, refuse and sanction benefits are wholly invisible and unable to be contacted.”

Leonard Cheshire Green Paper survey respondent[9]


3.1.4. Although the Department for Work and Pensions has highlighted any appeal that leads to a sanction being overturned means that the claimant’s cost of living payment will be reinstated and subsequently paid, there are significant barriers to reaching this stage for many disabled people. Research from the Public Law Project has emphasised three key barriers to appealing a sanction: difficulties contacting the DWP, fear of potential repercussions, and a lack of trust in the process.[10] All of these are issues that disabled people have repeatedly raised about the system as a whole and no doubt also apply to challenging sanctions.


3.2 Any other technicality you believe the Committee should investigate?


3.2.1 By 17th May 2023 all claimants receiving means-tested benefits will have received their first 2023/24 cost of living payment of £301, yet as of now there is still no indication of when those on disability benefits such as Personal Independence Payment and Disability Living Allowance will receive their £150 payment.


3.2.2. The latest Government information merely states that “most people will be paid the £150 Disability Cost of Living Payment during summer 2023.” This means it is currently the only direct cost of living support payment without a clear indication to recipients of when it will be due. Disabled people have told us the ongoing uncertainty of whether and when they may receive any form of financial support during this cost of living crisis has created considerable distress and anxiety and has made planning and budgeting for the future much more difficult.


3.2.3. The Energy Price Guarantee is due increase to £3,000 from July 2023 to March 2024, meaning many disabled people who are high energy users may face rising bills, but are still being left in the dark as to when the financial support to help with this may eventually arrive. Though some of those on disability benefits will also be receiving the £301 payment, there are 900,000 who will not and for whom the £150 is the only direct payment they are due to receive.[11]


3.2.4 We would strongly recommend the Committee investigate why it has been the case that for all cost of living payments, those to disabled people on disability benefits have been the last to arrive, with the least clarity on when to expect them. Whether any technical differences in payment systems between means-tested and disability benefits could contribute to the delay, or if not to establish why the DWP has taken the current approach towards cost of living support to disabled people.


3.2.5 We remain concerned there is not enough targeted support for disabled households whose conditions necessitate high energy use, with bills for such households nearly £1000 more than the average household a year.[12] Whilst we understand the Department of Energy Security & Net Zero is working to deliver against the Autumn Statement 2022 commitment to develop a new approach to consumer protection in the energy markets from April 2024, there is a high risk that support will fall short in the intervening period. We would urge consideration of interim support payments targeting energy-dependent households to protect disabled people when the EPG rises and through the Winter of 2023/4. 


4. How has the Department’s ad-hoc payment system and its design and use benefitted or limited the delivery of cost of living support?


4.1 A clear positive to be taken from the ad-hoc payment system is that the DWP appears to have learned a lesson from the early pandemic, when it chose not to extend the £20 uplift to 1.9 million disabled people on legacy benefits. At the time the Department’s Director General of Universal Credit and Permanent Secretary stated that dated IT systems were a reason for not extending the £20 a week uplift, however the delivery of these payments show that technical issues should not be a barrier to ensuring support reaches those who need it in the future.[13]


4.2 Overall it appears, albeit with some more extended delays for disabled people claiming disability benefits, the cost of living payments have managed to reach people within the social security system with reasonable speed and without significant issues. Ultimately, however, the ad-hoc payment system should form only part of the direct financial support received by those who most need it.


4.4 When announced by former chancellor Rishi Sunak and then extended by chancellor Jeremy Hunt, the Household Support Fund was emphasised as a means by which to support “some people who fall between the cracks,” Leonard Cheshire believes this Fund is not an adequate resource to support disabled people. Many of those who may have fallen between the cracks, will have done so thanks to how short the ad-hoc payments system was set up to reach in its design.




May 2023

[1] Leonard Cheshire (2022). Rising costs are a catastrophe for disabled people

[2] ONS 'Impact of increased cost of living on adults across Great Britain: June to September 2022' 25 October 2022

[3] Leonard Cheshire calculations using Ofgem figures

[4] Savanta ComRes interviewed 1,207 working age disabled adults (18-64) in the UK between 17 to 21

February 2022, for Leonard Cheshire, about their experiences in the previous 12 months

[5] Department for Work and Pensions (2023). Benefit sanctions statistics to October 2022 (experimental)

[6] https://questions-statements.parliament.uk/written-questions/detail/2023-03-27/174379

[7] McNeill, J., Scullion, L., Jones, K., & Stewart, A. (2017). Welfare conditionality and disabled people in the UK: claimants' perspectives. Journal of Poverty and Social Justice, 25(2), 177-180

[8] Shaping future support: the health and disability green paper: Leonard Cheshire consultation response. Available at: https://www.leonardcheshire.org/our-impact/our-policy-and-research-work/our-publications/briefings

[9] ibid

[10] Public Law Project (2022). Benefit Sanctions: A Presumption of Guilt

[11] Department for Work and Pensions (2021). Shaping Future Support. The Health and Disability Green Paper

[12] Leonard Cheshire calculations using Ofgem figures

[13] Z2K (2020). Discriminatory Government Excuses Are Leaving 2.5 Million People Without Vital Support https://z2k.org/discriminatory-government-excuses-are-leaving-2-5-million-people-withoutvital-support/