New research conducted by the University of Glasgow has revealed the extent of the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on disabled people in Scotland.
In a recently published report, the Glasgow Centre for Population Health (GCPH) and the Glasgow Disability Alliance (GDA) have highlighted the challenges disabled people in Glasgow are facing and called for serious changes to Government policy. The report was based on insights from two focus groups comprising disabled individuals residing in Glasgow, as well as a scoping review of relevant research.
David Linden, Glasgow East MP and SNP spokesperson for Social Justice in Westminster, told The Glasgow Guardian:
“This Tory Government has shafted disabled people at every turn, from the 2.5 million who missed out in legacy benefit claim uplifts during the pandemic, to those to who experience increased costs of £975 per month during the Westminster-made cost of living crisis.“
Within the focus groups, participants expressed how the crisis has worsened their living conditions and the lack of support they receive. Several participants noted the effects of rising prices which is reflected in the significant hike in poverty rates among disabled people, with current data showing 24 percent of disabled people´s households living in poverty compared to 18 percent of households without a disabled person.
As one of the focus group’s participants reported: “In this cost-of-living crisis I feel the guillotine above my head all the time, I feel it so vividly. Things were always tight before, and even through COVID, but this is different, I can’t get by, everything is so much more expensive, so much more, I have no room to move. It feels like you are condemned to a joyless life being disabled in this crisis.”
The report also highlighted the significant impact of the cost of living crisis on the social lives of people with disabilities. The report highlights the growing difficulties of disabled people to afford social spending has eroded their mental health and resulted for many the feeling of being left behind. The authors from the GCPH and the GDA did highlight the lack of methodological transparency in analysed research and lack of literature regarding disability and the cost of living crisis.
In a response to the report offered to The Glasgow Guardian, a government spokesperson from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) did not comment on the implementation of a social energy tariff but answered with the following:
“We’re providing record financial support worth an average £3,300 per household, including up to £900 for those on means-tested benefits and a £150 disability support payment on top, while bearing down on inflation as a priority.“
The spokesperson also highlighted the ability of the devolved powers to provide additional benefits: “The Scottish Government has significant welfare powers and can top-up reserved benefits, provide discretionary payments and create entirely new benefits in areas of devolved responsibility.“
A Scottish Government spokesperson has told The Glasgow Guardian that it “is doing everything within its powers and fixed budgets to ensure people, communities and businesses are supported as far as possible. Reducing health inequalities and ensuring that disabled people across Scotland are supported through this cost of living crisis is a clear priority for this Government.
“The Scottish Government has taken many actions to provide support on the cost crisis such as mitigating UK government policies such as the two-child cap and bedroom tax, and maintaining investment in the Scottish Welfare Fund at £41m for the 2023-24 year.“
Chris Harkins, a UofG academic and one of the authors of the report, explained “Over one in five UK citizens are disabled, and within Glasgow, the figure is almost a quarter among working age people, rising to 64 percent in those over 65 years of age. Disability is part of being human, almost everyone will be disabled temporarily or permanently in their lives. Yet, disability in many ways remains a peripheral issue in society – a ‘them and us’ dichotomy based on stigma, discrimination, and disinterest.
“For disabled people living in Glasgow to have unheated homes, to go hungry, and to have severely restricted opportunities to socialise and participate in their community paints a bleak picture of our society in 2023. Moreso, living like this is a direct violation of their human rights. These conditions are a direct result of policy choices, primarily a decade of austerity policy which we know has been devastating to the health of disabled people and lower income households. In terms of local and national government, disabled people must be considered a priority. As this report makes painfully clear, urgent action is essential.”
Beyond the findings and discussion of the report, there were calls for reforms both at the Holyrood and Westminster level. Among the policy recommendations for the Scottish government the report called for the abolishment of social care charges, which is a manifesto commitment of the current government.
For the UK government, one of the policy recommendations was the implementation of a Social Energy Tariff, which, if legislated, would allow for discounted gas and electricity for disabled customers. The measure was investigated by the chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, but it appears to have been shelved.