Select Committee on Trade and Industry Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by Disability Now

  Disability Now is the leading publication for disabled people, their families and carers, It has about 70,000 readers and is published monthly by Scope.



  The Government makes a winter fuel payment of 200 to all pensioner households, regardless of income or need.

  There are about 1.7 million severely disabled people of working age who receive Disability Living Allowance middle/higher rate of the care component or higher rate of the mobility component. Their disability and lack of mobility means they often feel the cold acutely yet they cannot afford to pay their heating bills.

  Disability Now is calling on the Government to extend the winter fuel payment to these people. The cost would be about 340 million a year compared to the 1.7 billion paid to 11.5 million pensioners last year.


  Disability Now launched the campaign in October 2000 with a survey of its readers. Over 4,000 disabled people and their supporters now back the campaign. Of these, 1,800 severely disabled people have filled in a questionnaire explaining how they manage and why they need the winter fuel payment. Their comments have much in common: they cope as best they can with extra clothes, hot water bottles, living in one room, missing out on holidays, skimping on food, "hibernating". They all say the 200 would allow them to turn on or turn up their heating. There is widespread dread of heating bills and some people are still paying them off over the summer.

  The campaign is also supported by the All Party Disability Group (APDG), the Disability Rights Commission and 21 leading disability and carers' organisations. The Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru included the payment in their Election manifestos of 2001. 165 MPs have signed early day motion No 289 sponsored by Dr Roger Berry. There have been numerous questions from the main political parties in the Lords and Commons and a Lords debate in March 2001.

  The Minister for Disabled People, Maria Eagle, met a deputation led by Lord Ashley, chair of the APDG, in November last year, which included two disabled people who feel the cold acutely. She promised to consider the arguments they put forward. But in a letter to Disability Now in February she said she remained of the view "that it is right that the payments are made to older people only".

  Lord Ashley said: "The Government's refusal to extend winter fuel payments is illogical, anomalous and unjust. Severely disabled people suffer from immobility in the cold just as much as pensioners and in some cases more so."

  Most recently, Anne Robinson, chair of energywatch, told your Committee that she supported a winter fuel payment for severely disabled people. "They do spend a lot more on fuel. The fuel bills hit them very hard in the winter and they are people who already have lots of problems. If they are cold, they are likely to have increased problems. Their needs are probably as great as anybody's—if not greater than most."

The arguments

  1.  Fuel poverty. The Government argues that "Older people remain those suffering most from fuel poverty, and the Government is satisfied that the payments continue to help the people they were, and are, intended for . . . " (Maria Eagle letter). "50 per cent of those who are fuel poor are pensioners; 4 per cent of those who are fuel poor are severely disabled." (Baroness Hollis of Heigham, House of Lords, 23 October 2001.)

  In November 2001, Lord Ashley was told that 29 per cent of pensioner households in England were in fuel poverty in 1998 and 22 per cent of disabled households were in fuel poverty (1998 Energy Follow Up Survey to the English House Condition Survey). So, while more pensioners are living in fuel poverty, the proportions are very similar.

  Yet all pensioners receive the winter fuel payment while severely disabled people aged below 60 do not.

  2.  Benefit support. The Government acknowledges that ``DLA is intended to provide a contribution towards the generality of extra costs faced by severely disabled people as a result of their disabilities'' and that ``The amounts payable are not based on calculations of the costs of specific items.'' But it argues that the results of surveys of Attendance Allowance and Mobility Allowance (precursors of DLA) showed that they were well directed and this is why DLA continues to be paid, and uprated annually (Maria Eagle letter).

  Certainly there are many calls on DLA. A vehicle from Motability, for example, is paid for out of the higher mobility component and petrol often from the care component, which leaves little over for other costs. There has been no recent research to assess if current levels of DLA are adequate. The Disability Now survey shows that they are not.

  Major Government research (Disability in Great Britain July '99) found disabled people most frequently put fuel and transport top of their costs. Many severely disabled people with impaired walking function and care needs experience severe financial hardship because they are at home most of the time, with no job, and they need to maintain a constant temperature, including at night. As a discreet group they are as likely, if not more likely, to experience financial hardship and fuel poverty than the broad, heterogeneous group of people over 60.

  Leonard Cheshire's submission to your Committee reinforces our point: it found that a third of the disabled people in its survey could not afford to meet the extra heating costs arising from disability and that they had a lower average income that the general population.

  3.  Additional payment for people on Income Support (Disability Income Guarantee). Severely disabled people are eligible for this enhanced disability premium of 11.05.

  Introducing the additional payment in 2000 showed that the existing support was thought to be inadequate. But it is only for people on Income Support and the way ``severely disabled'' is defined (those who need 24-hour care) means that the payment will only help 130,000 adults and 30,000 children. It won't help people with mobility impairments who are on higher mobility support and need extra heat but have lower care needs.

Mary Wilkinson

Editor, Disability Now

6 June 2002

  This submission has been checked by Disability Alliance and RADAR.


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