Weekly Poll – Energy Blackouts (Week Beginning 14 November 2022)

Each week Disability Equality Scotland send out a poll question to our members on a topical issue. For the week beginning 14th November 2022, we asked a question about the proposed energy blackouts.

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.

Results

Question: Are you concerned about these proposed blackouts?

Comments

We provide verbatim comments where appropriate to illustrate strength of feeling or personal experience.

Impact on disabled people:

Respondents voiced concern around how blackouts could affect disabled people. It was suggested that energy blackouts will make it either very challenging or impossible to use vital electric medical equipment, such as IV pumps, CPAP machines, ventilators, dehumidifiers, dialysis machines, and accessibility equipment, such as mobility scooters, electric wheelchairs, and assistive technology.

‘I am on 24/7 oxygen therapy and a blackout would seriously put my life at risk. I have an incurable lung condition and I am on borrowed time as it is thanks to the oxygen therapy! So I am terrified off losing my electric supply!’

‘My daughter has Cerebral Palsy and relies on her power chair being charged. She also has an electric hoist, bed, toilet, chair, sink. Most of her equipment is powered by electricity and heating is needed to keep her warm as she has circulatory problems too. It is very worrying as to how we would be able to care for her during a blackout’

‘I am concerned not for myself but for people who need access to vital medical equipment that needs power. My mum had an oxygen machine that she needed that used electricity. These households should be registered and excluded from the blackout just as a hospital with vital equipment would be excluded’.

There were also concerns raised around access to security systems and phones, refrigeration of medication, and people potentially having to go into hospital to access medical equipment which could expose a disabled person to COVID-19 and other viruses/infections.

‘As a disabled person living alone the thought of black outs is very scary. Security systems, lights, streetlights etc will all be gone… also the ability to charge my phone, which is a lifeline for emergency services’

‘I am worried about possible blackouts because I need to keep my medication refrigerated’

‘I feel for people who rely on life-saving equipment in their homes. Will these people have to be admitted to hospital to ensure that they are safe?’

Additionally, exposure to darkness and cold were identified as having the potential to negatively impact the lives of disabled people. The cold could worsen the impact of many disabilities and health conditions, such as breathing problems, chronic pain, visual impairments, joint conditions, and immune system disorders.

‘I have a number of health conditions, including chronic asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, and diabetic neuropathy, which would mean any blackouts would be extremely dangerous for me, especially in the cold and dark of the winter months’.

‘We are a disabled family with complex medical issues. We are reliant on a stable regulated indoor environment (heating at a steady temperature, dehumidifers to maintain stable humidity levels and to prevent moulds, and air purifiers running 24 hours a day in every room, constant hot water, availability of electric lighting round the clock all for medical reasons etc.). Three-hour periods – even with 24-hour notice – without these essentials could prove highly detrimental and dangerous to us’.

‘Being disabled now, it will affect me a lot more if it happens as being cold puts my body into painful spasms’

Darkness in particular could make it more unsafe for disabled people to move around their home and/or utilise vital equipment if they were able to keep it running.

‘Any disabled person is put at a disadvantage as moving around when it is dark is likely to cause accidents’

‘It is difficult enough to move around when you have mobility problems doing so in the dark even more so’.

‘The danger of being attached to medical equipment in the dark only compounds the problems that people with complex disabilities suffer’.

Energy blackouts may also increase the level of emotional stress for disabled people which can also make their health conditions worse, and this may be particularly felt by those with neurological conditions, intellectual disabilities, psychological conditions etc., who could experience greater stress, confusion, and distress when faced with energy blackouts.

‘The impact of stress is much larger on people with a health condition, autistic people and those with mental health challenges’

‘This would have a severe impact particularly on my grandmother who has dementia – increasing her levels of confusion and distress’

 Electricity alternatives and accessibility

It was however suggested that the blackouts may be manageable as they are proposed to last for a limited period of three hours and people could use alternatives to electric equipment that have been used in previous blackouts, i.e., candles, torches, solar powered lights, BBQs, corded phones etc.

‘If the blackouts are restricted to 3 hours, they should be no concern to me personally, but I would be concerned if they were extended to longer times.’

‘This information is distributed each year and even if there are blackouts, we are well prepared with candles, torches, barbecues and camping stoves.’

However as suggested by other respondents, electricity alternatives do not meet the accessibility needs of all disabled people or address issues with medical equipment, darkness, cold etc. Alternatives are also financially inaccessible and could be dangerous for some disabled people to use, such as those with visual impairments, mobility issues, cognitive conditions etc.

‘When blackouts happened in the 70s, I was young and they scared me no end. In those days there was no central heating or double glazing, so we had paraffin heating and trying to stay warm and safe was hard, and now we are facing this again. Being disabled now, it will affect me a lot more if it happens as being cold puts my body into painful spasms and now adays people no longer have paraffin heaters or things like this in the home so people who need heating and electricity are going to suffer badly. The ones with money just buy themselves generators which is great if you can afford it, but the people who do need them can’t afford them, so we suffer. I’m afraid if we do have power cuts, we may also have a few deaths which I sincerely hope doesn’t happen, but I’m not convinced it won’t.’

‘If you walk with two mobility crutches then how can you hold on to a torch or candle, in fact a candle could be dangerous as it might start a fire if dropped’.

‘There could be dangers from candles or alternative heat’

Communication, notice, and support:

Alongside concerns around how blackouts would impact disabled people, respondents there is a feeling of concern around short notice periods, inaccessible communication, and unavailability of support. It was raised that the notice period did not provide enough time for people to make arrangements to protect their health. Additionally, people are uninformed of how to keep safe during a blackout and if the information about the blackouts is not provided in various accessible formats, not all disabled people will be able to prepare.

‘How will we be informed? Will we be informed well in advance? Will we be provided with candles?’

‘There seems to be an unwillingness to give advice now to people about how to prepare for these cuts, explaining what people should do and how to be safe. Giving people a day’s notice is just going to lead to panic buying in the shops and the associated risks of public disturbances. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away and could result in people using dangerous solutions to heating and lighting during the blackout. Preparing information in accessible formats now would allow people to understand what the potential issues are and get prepared in case it happens and ensure that issues surrounding their own disability can be mitigated’.

Suggestions:

To conclude, through the poll response we found respondents provided different suggestions for the Scottish government that could make the proposed blackouts easier to manage: 1) household exemptions for disabled people and people with health conditions 2) providing accessible alternative energy sources, such as emergency generators, before the proposed blackout period 3) focusing blackouts on public locations with the highest levels of energy output rather than individual households 4) providing blackout notices and information on how to manage blackouts to everyone in a range of accessible formats, such as Easy Read, email, text etc