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Cost of Energy: People with Disabilities

Volume 724: debated on Monday 5 December 2022

10. What assessment he has made with Cabinet colleagues of the adequacy of levels of benefit payments to support people with disabilities with the cost of energy. (902582)

19. What assessment he has made with Cabinet colleagues of the adequacy of levels of benefit payments to support people with disabilities with the cost of energy. (902591)

Ministers across Government, of course, discuss policy proposals. The Government are spending £37 billion this year to support people on low incomes and disabled people with rising costs of living and energy prices. On top of that support, which includes cost of living payments, we have committed to a further £26 billion in cost of living support in 2023-24.

Earlier this year, 300,000 disabled people were taken out of eligibility for the warm home discount scheme, causing them huge worry. What does the Minister say to those 300,000 worried disabled people, who lost £150 because of his Government’s decision to remove them from the warm home discount scheme?

I am happy to raise with Ministers across Government the hon. Lady’s point about eligibility for the scheme, but I would make the argument that this Government have put in place a comprehensive package of support that is worth £37 billion this year and £26 billion next year. It is comprehensive support, meeting a number of needs. Of course, there is also discretionary help to meet particular needs where they exist in particular households.

We should not forget that since 2010, £34 billion of social security support has been taken away from working-age people, including disabled people. Back in April, the Equality and Human Rights Commission identified requiring the Department for Work and Pensions to enter into a section 23 agreement as one of its areas of focus. Eight months on, that agreement has still not been presented. At the Work and Pensions Committee last week, I asked the Secretary of State when it would be agreed. I would like some confirmation—here, today—of when exactly that will happen.

The position is exactly as the Secretary of State described it to the Select Committee last week. We, as Ministers, continue to engage constructively on that section 23 issue, and will provide further updates whenever we are able to do so.

Many disabled people are having to make unimaginable sacrifices to keep life-saving equipment running in the face of huge energy bills. For instance, Carolynne Hunter’s 12-year-old daughter Freya requires oxygen for chronic breathing problems, and the bills that she had to pay to keep her daughter alive rose to £17,000. Thankfully, Kate Winslet stepped in and donated the full amount after being “absolutely destroyed” by the family’s story, but disabled people should not have to rely on celebrities to swoop in and save the day. When will the Government finally ensure that all disabled people are receiving the support they so desperately need?

I thank the shadow Minister for raising the issue of Carolynne’s situation. I am, of course, under no illusions about how challenging many people are finding the current circumstances and climate. We are providing the package of support that I have already described—which is the right thing to do—in addition to the discretionary help that is there to address particularly pressing needs in individual cases. As the hon. Lady will know, the Chancellor announced in the autumn statement that as part of ongoing future work we would be considering, for instance, social tariffs, and I also want to look into what more we can do in the longer term to help families deal with continuing significant costs.