Vulnerable people are suffering the most in this deepening crisis


“The poorest tenth of households (by income) suffer most from the exponential rise in gas and electricity prices as they spend three times as much of their expenditure on heat and light as the richest tenth.”

Barry Rodin, Disability Officer of Orpington CLP, looks at the impact of the cost of living crisis on the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.

The devastating consequences of health, climate and cost of living crises have highlighted the inadequate support given to the poor, vulnerable and disabled people in our society. These crises are adding to the harmful effects of twelve years of austerity and cuts.

With wage rises lagging well behind inflation, the Bank of England has forecast that next year will see the biggest fall in living standards since records began. This follows a prolonged period of low-income growth. One in 4 children are now living in poverty.

The poorest tenth of households (by income) suffer most from the exponential rise in gas and electricity prices as they spend three times as much of their expenditure on heat and light as the richest tenth. These households have experienced an inflation rate at least 1.5% higher than the richest tenth.

One permanent method to protect poorest households’ and their benefits against both current and future cost of living crises is an alternative official inflation measure based on spending patterns for households on low incomes and/or receiving benefits.

Further protection can be given by:

– a ‘double lock’ approach to uprate benefits using the higher of inflation rates given by the official Consumer Price Index (CPIH) or the index based on lower incomes (CPI-LI); and

– uprating benefits and pensions more frequently when inflation exceeds a specified rate (eg. every 6 months when annual inflation from either the CPIH or CPI-LI exceeds 10%).

Labour must also support trade union action for higher wages and lead the political campaign to demand the Government and National Regulatory Energy Authority freeze prices, provide a social tariff for low-income households and name and shame energy companies making excessive profits.

Disabled people are suffering particularly badly from another crisis, the continuing pandemic. During 2020, 60% of people who died due to Covid-19 were disabled, with their mortality- rates continuing to be disproportionally high.

We need to campaign to help mitigate the ongoing harmful effects of the pandemic on disabled people. The current Covid-19 inquiry must hear evidence directly from disabled people. It must also address the need for greater funding and planning to build capacity and resilience for future pandemics.

Assessments determining eligibility for benefits continue to pose many problems, adding to the stress that disabled, vulnerable and poor people are currently experiencing. In particular, health care professionals assessing entitlement to benefits such as Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Universal Credit must be allocated to cases according to their knowledge of the specific disability or illness suffered by the claimant (eg. neuro-diverse conditions, sickle cell anaemia, multiple sclerosis).

It is significant that, on appeal, over 70% of original decisions refusing the PIP benefit are reversed. Appeal panels often include doctors with greater experience, empathy and knowledge in dealing with, for example, the complexity of conditions such as autism and dyspraxia. This must be addressed in the forthcoming Government White Paper on benefits.

The social care system increasingly struggles to meet the needs of a growing older population and people with long term conditions or disabilities. One significant consequence is the rapidly increasing numbers of unpaid carers. More than 1 in 8 adults now care for an adult family member or friend.

A key objective is to determine how best local authorities and social care and health organisations can support unpaid carers, many who are on low incomes. Measures include directing carers to the best advice and support available for people they are caring for, safeguarding carers’ well-being and ensuring their employers provide supportive working arrangements.

Carers must be recognised as partners in the care of the person they are supporting, not cheaper alternatives to the social care system.

Moreover, financial support to carers needs to be improved. For instance, when assessing a carer’s allowance, the condition that applicants can earn no more than a specified net income (only £132 per week in 2022) must be eliminated.

After twelve years of austerity, crises and further decay in infrastructure and services, it is vital to elect a progressive and transformative government prioritising the well-being of the many before the interests of a very wealthy few.

  • The Campaign For Labour Party Democracy (CLPD) is supporting model motions to the Labour Party Annual Conference on these and other vital issues – view them here.
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  • This article originally appeared in Labour Briefing (Co-operative) magazine and is reproduced with permission. Subscribe by sending a £20 cheque with your address to Labour Briefing Co-op, PO Box 78639, London N16 1LA
Featured image: “Never Truss a Tory” sign at the Enough is Enough demonstration on October 1, 2022. Photo credit: Ben Folley/ Labour Outlook archive

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