Weekly Poll – Rising Energy Costs: Prescribing Energy
Each week Disability Equality Scotland send out a poll question to our members on a topical issue. For the week beginning 22 August 2022, we asked a question about rising energy costs.
Please note that this is a snapshot of the views of our membership and does not reflect a policy stance of Disability Equality Scotland. If you plan to reference the findings featured in this report, please contact us in advance so that we are aware of this.
Question 1. How concerned are you about the rising cost of energy?
- Very concerned – 97% (398 respondents)
- Quite concerned – 3% (10 respondents)
- Not very concerned – 0% (1 respondent)
- Not concerned at all – 0% (1 respondent)
- Unsure – 0% (0 respondents)
Question 2. Do you think prescribing energy would be a useful way to help with the cost of energy bills?
- Yes – 17% (71 respondents)
- No – 83% (242 respondents)
We provide verbatim comments where appropriate to illustrate strength of feeling or personal experience.
Rising Energy Costs
The rising cost of energy, potentially reaching an average of £3,500 a year by January 2023, continues to be one of the biggest contributors to the cost of living increases. Disabled people are more likely to have particular needs for additional energy, including being more vulnerable to cold and damp, needing to keep medication at the correct temperature, and powering assistive technologies.
Impact on Disabled People
An overwhelming 97% (398 respondents) stated that they are ‘very concerned’ by rising energy costs. Disabled people reflected on their additional energy requirements and felt worried about not being able to afford higher energy prices, which may have a negative impact on their mental and physical health.
“I use an oxygen concentrator and I am waiting to hear what my new tariff will be as my fixed rate runs out end of October. I am anxious as I want an indication as to what is the likely cost – getting that information is impossible.”
“My concern is that when energy prices get too high, I will have difficulty keeping warm which will have detrimental effects to my arthritis and respiratory problems. As I am on benefits, I will have to have days with no heating at all.”
“I’m worried about the rising energy costs as I need to keep warm due to mobility difficulties, and need to do regular laundry because of eczema concerns etc.”
“As someone with a visual impairment I need additional lighting in my home and that lighting needs to be on most of the time, this helps me avoid trips and falls and also allows me to see the environment and task related things more clearly. I also need to use additional equipment like electronic magnifiers to help me see. I take longer in the shower and when washing which means I use more hot water. I tend to leave heating on one setting because changing it is very hard with limited vision. I also rely on video calling to help with guided instructions from friends and family. I know I’ll need to compromise on these things as my bill has already tripled since January and I honestly just cannot afford what it is now never mind what’s yet to come.”
“I have a small, travel powerchair for hospital visits and a larger one for shopping. They both take 4 hours to charge up. My bath raiser takes 16 hours to charge! I cannot manage without them. I feel cold all the time and dread the winter now with my Rheumatoid Arthritis. I will not be able to afford the bills.”
“We’re all now facing a choice to heat or eat, it’s that bad even for people in the higher category of PIP. I need to take my medicine with or just after food, so it’ll be the heating for me this year. I live quite near a GO Outdoors store, so when I heard about the price highjack, because it is not a rise it’s a highjack, I’ve been using the little spare each month to buy artic grade thermals, quilts, gloves to get through this winter.”
“I am very concerned for myself and others. Particularly those who need to use equipment to maintain their health. I use CPAP every night and occasionally a nebuliser. However, some people have greater energy needs with special hospital type beds, pressure reliving mattresses, dialysis equipment, electric pumps for delivering fluids, nutritional supplements or medication. Carers use a hoist and other equipment to help them to look after someone in their own homes. Cooking equipment to purée food, sterilising equipment… the list goes on.”
One idea suggested by the ALLIANCE and Energy Action Scotland, to help manage costs in the short term, is that the NHS could prescribe energy – giving people money to help with their energy bills as a health intervention. They argue this will reduce the risk of ill-health for disabled people and cost the government less than treating preventable illnesses that might otherwise arise.
The majority of respondents (83%) believed that prescribing energy would not be an effective way to help with the cost of energy bills. Respondents reflected on the existing pressures faced by the NHS and raised concerns that it would not be appropriate or sustainable for healthcare staff to take on the responsibility of prescribing energy.
“I think GPs should not be involved in energy prescribing as their involvement in financial affairs could undermine important aspects of the patient/doctor relationship. In addition, GPs are overwhelmed. However, for people on home dialysis or who use other life sustaining equipment – nebulisers, etc, there should certainly be some kind of additional financial support. If you need electrical equipment to breathe or to compensate for failure of organs, then you need the money to sustain that. It shouldn’t require a prescription to be able to evidence that.”
“This is an issue the UK Government should have already taken action on instead of being posted missing in action. They can’t now dump this mess onto over worked GPs. A terrible proposal that no doubt is an attempt to get them off the hook for this shambles and not taking control earlier.”
“This is a social justice issue not an issue for doctors. The UK government needs to address this and not by putting GPs, who are already overstretched, behind the 8 ball. This has just not been thought through at all.”
“Doctors are stretched to the max already; they do not need to be prescribing fuel payments. The government know who is on benefits and the most at risk of being in fuel poverty, therefore they know who needs the help.”
“I think it is wrong to medicalise a social issue like this. I do think it is important to note the burden on disabled people, however it should be addressed by realistic benefits.”
“It is a poor idea to ask people to go with a begging bowl to their healthcare professional.”
“Ludicrous idea to ask people to go to their GP and ask for financial help. How does the GP make the decisions in light of people’s incomes and savings? This is a UK Government mess, and it needs sorted with a cash first approach.”
“Have the NHS and the GPs not got enough to do without putting them in the firing line of who gets help with energy bills? How would this even work, would you have to be on PIP or some other benefit, what about the elderly or the heat or eat crowd do they not deserve to have bills that are at manageable levels. This plan would not solve the problem of bills that are far too high and only serve to make disabled people even more ”different’ and not a part of society.”
Respondents considered the alternative forms of support to address rising energy costs that are disproportionately impacting on disabled people.
Respondents suggested that a more targeted approach can be achieved through means-tested benefits. The UK government introduced the Cost of Living Payment of £650 for people receiving Universal Credit and an extra £150 for people receiving disability benefits, including Personal Independence Payment (PIP), Disability Living Allowance (DLA), and Adult Disability Payment. However, respondents stated that the Cost of Living Payment does not go far enough to cover the significant rise in energy prices.
“The financial support announced by the UK government for people on Universal Credit and disability benefits is a disgrace that does not come close to covering the cost of my energy bill.”
“I don’t think that this help should be provided by your health service it should be by a payment straight into your bank. The DWP already knows who get what benefits.”
“Significant increase in disability payments would be the best approach especially as most disabled people are on legacy benefits and were already financially disadvantaged during Covid Payment handouts I.e., Universal Credit top-up”
“Longer term solutions such as increased disability benefits need to seriously be considered. Increasing the minimum wage as working and non-working people are using food banks and increased taxes on a sliding scale of earnings to pay for it. Tax cuts is not helping those on low wages as much as those on higher wages.”
“Energy companies providing a social tariff to those in receipt of DLA, PIP, ADP (and possibly those without who are in receipt of LCWRA) would be an alternative which ties in with existing links between energy suppliers and the DWP. There’s £150 coming for those which could be increased. It’d be a lot simpler to implement and fits in with existing systems. You could extend the warm home discount scheme – and increase its value. There are lots of methods of targeting help to vulnerable groups – a prescription is not a way of doing it.”
Respondents believed that the UK government must take more direct action to negotiate lower prices with energy companies. Some respondents suggested that this can be achieved through temporarily nationalising energy companies that do not provide affordable tariffs.
“The Government NEEDS to enforce legislation on the energy producing companies who have been ripping off their customers for years and force the thresholds down, force down their profits and their massive salaries and allow people to live.”
“Using NHS funds to pay energy companies shareholders and directors would be a disgrace. Utilities should be nationalised and the differential burden on some disabled people can then be taken account of on a social solidarity basis. Meantime, the companies can be told to limit their price increases to a percentage no more than half of what they pay their lowest paid employees.”
“The UK Government created this mess, and they need to fix it at source and not over burden our health and social care services with deciding who gets to live this winter and who should freeze to death! Let’s face it, we have come from eating and heating to living or dying in this cost of living crisis with millions of people being pulled into poverty.”
“Nationalise the power companies and a windfall tax on oil companies who are making massive profits.”
“Given the obscene profits made by the energy companies they should be forced to give rebates and reduce their rates.”
“Just sort out the big companies that are overcharging and making billions in profits from people’s misery.”
“It’s just a simple thing for the government to sort, stop the huge profits energy companies make and the massive bonuses they give to themselves. But that won’t happen and so you will have a lot more people in hospital or dying because of the choice of eating or heating.”
An overwhelming majority of respondents (97%) stated that they are ‘very concerned’ with rising energy costs. Disabled people discussed their additional energy requirements and shared significant concerns about being unable to afford higher prices and the detrimental impact this will have on their mental and physical health. The majority of respondents (83%) believed that prescribing energy would not be a helpful way to help with the cost of energy bills. Instead, respondents suggested that more direct support can be provided through increasing means-tested benefits. It was also noted that the UK government must take more meaningful action to negotiate lower prices with energy companies, which may involve temporary nationalisation.