Three tests the Autumn Statement needs to pass
Gemma Hope, our Director of Policy, explains what we're looking out for in the Autumn Statement.
If the Statement doesn’t do this, social care moves deeper into trouble, and the clock keeps ticking.
Another month, another set of spending plans. Politics is once again living up to its reputation by moving at great speed. But politics being politics is not the pressing issue here. Not at all. Things are arguably moving too slowly on the most urgent matters of the moment, where people are still waiting for support.
The question of the moment is how the government can tackle two sets of crises, both affecting disabled people significantly. And both likely to result in disaster and lives being lost without swift action.
One is the surge in inflation, prices and poverty, and a lack of support for disabled people facing lower incomes and soaring costs: the cost-of-living crisis, in short. The other is the long-term problems facing the social care sector, which includes huge costs for users and widespread staffing shortages impacting care provision.
Will the Autumn Statement do much to improve the situation – to prevent or at least reduce the impacts on disabled people? That depends very much on three key things – tests, if you will. The Statement needs to address all three to ensure the burdens of the cost-of-living crisis and the deterioration of social care do not fall on the shoulders of disabled people.
Will the government raise benefits in line with inflation?
Inflation and price increases for almost all goods and services have .completely overtaken any rises in benefits, including disability-related benefits. The result is a real-terms cut to incomes that are often already low. This is made worse by barriers to good quality jobs, and generally lower employment rates for disabled people. And with the extra costs of living with a disability – in terms of equipment, accessible products and higher energy use – many disabled people are already facing hardship.
We are hearing distressing testimonies from disabled people who are increasingly desperate by the impact of rising costs. And their experiences are not unusual: the ONS recently found that 55% of disabled people are struggling to afford their energy bills, and 36% with rent or mortgage payments.
The government already committed to raising benefits in line with inflation in April 2023. If this isn’t fulfilled as part of the Autumn Statement, then not even the bare minimum will have been done in terms of easing the cost-of-living crisis.
The government needs to do more
Disabled people are telling us they are scared, and out of solutions.
We all believe the government must immediately increase benefits to reflect the real cost of living. Do you?
Will the government give social care the money it needs?
Funding for social care has been stagnant or declining, in real terms, since 2010. Demand, on the other hand, has climbed, stretching the sector’s capacity to crisis point. Then, one after the other, came the Covid-19 pandemic, surging energy prices and escalating staffing shortages.
Not so long ago, Boris Johnson stood on the steps of Number 10 and promised a plan to ‘fix’ social care. But both his and other governments have simply put off a proper plan and the required funding for too long. Now our time is almost up, and a large-scale cash injection is needed just to stabilise the sector and protect people who draw on care, staff and providers alike. Disabled people’s quality of care is being compromised, and this has the same effect on quality of life. It can’t go on like this.
If the Autumn Statement commits to this, the social care sector can begin to move out of crisis mode and become safer, more innovative, and more sustainable. It’ll stop the clock before we run out of time to protect the sector and those who rely on it. If the Statement doesn’t do this, social care moves deeper into trouble, and the clock keeps ticking.
Will the government continue to help rising energy costs after current packages run out?
Next April, the Energy Price Guarantee ends, and so do limits on rising energy bills. By this point, our analysis suggests that disabled people will have spent £1,000 more on annual energy costs than the year before, even after government support. If the government doesn’t commit to continuing targeted support for disabled people with energy costs, that spending hike will grow even bigger. It’s simply unaffordable.
Disabled people are already rationing their heating, using cold water to wash themselves and being left unable to charge their equipment as often as they need – right now. This is causing grave implications for their physical and mental health. Measures to date, like the Warm Homes Discount, help to chip away at these larger bills, but as costs continue to grow, support packages need to grow with them. And eligibility for existing measures needs to be restored – currently, many of those on PIP aren’t eligible for the Warm Homes Discount, which is a huge gap of 300,000 people.
If the Autumn Statement commits to targeted support for disabled people with energy costs, then it will help to tackle a major driver of the cost-of-living crisis in the long-term. If not, come April, energy costs pile on pressure on incomes and the crisis becomes more acute and prolonged.
The government must not fail disabled people
As the Chancellor unveils this year’s Autumn Statement, we’re all waiting anxiously to see the outcome of these tests. With the right political choices, neither social care nor the cost of living need to be putting disabled people in crisis. The government has a choice: it must live up to its recent promises to be "compassionate” and “fair” and to prioritise those most in need.
These are tough, high-stakes tests. But the government can and should pass them if it acts now. It will cost. But doing nothing will cost far more in the long-term.