Tulip Siddiq MP calls for ‘special needs price tag’ to end

Hampstead and Kilburn MP Tulip Siddiq

Hampstead and Kilburn MP Tulip Siddiq - Credit: Supplied by Tulip Siddiq

Hampstead and Kilburn MP Tulip Siddiq on why disabled people deserve a fairer deal.

For years, politicians have talked about a cost of living crisis in Britain. Soaring energy bills, extortionate rent repayments and the growing cost of the weekly shop have left many walking a financial tightrope. For many disabled people and their families, the cost of leading an independent life poses a much greater challenge altogether.

Welfare payments and equality laws are well trodden political paths to ensure British society cares for its vulnerable, but they have not proved sufficient.

Described by campaigners as “a special needs price tag”, people experiencing a diverse range of conditions are still incurring extortionate costs for routine goods and services. This must change.

The Extra Costs Commission, initiated in 2014 following work by the disability charity Scope, has identified five areas of cost that are burdening disabled peoples’ lives. These are: clothing, transport, insurance, specialised disability equipment and the energy market.

Previous research by Scope estimated that disabled people spend on average, £550 a month on disability-related expenditure. Welfare payments fall far short of meeting these costs, with the average award in 2016 being around £360 a month.

One-off costs can also be entirely unmanageable. Imagine having to pay over £6,000 for a bed, simply to be safe when sleeping at night. Imagine having to pay hundreds of pounds for specialist shoes, simply to walk. For many, such costs would be unthinkable, but they are a necessity for countless disabled people. The Commission, therefore, concludes with clear recommendations addressed to a number of stakeholders, including the government and businesses – to get markets functioning better.

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Unfortunately, the government’s record in supporting the disabled is less than encouraging. Analysis from the House of Commons Library shows that welfare support is due to be cut by £1.2bn in real-terms over the course of this parliament. Many will also remember Iain Duncan Smith’s shock resignation, caused by the Chancellor’s plans to cut vital Personal Independence Payments.

This record leaves me doubting whether we can rely on the Government to act in the best interests of disabled people and relieve them of the burden created by extra living costs.

Autumn in parliament promises a number of crucial debates, not least as the government continues to take a “make it up as we go along” strategy for taking Britain out of the EU. However, efforts to reduce extra costs for disabled people must be a priority. We have an independent report, with recommendations underpinned by serious research and expert commentary. We must get on with implementing it. Public campaigns will continue to focus on the role of government in meeting costs through maintaining extra cost payments. This will be vital, but until we see regulatory action on the costs themselves, I fear the situation will become unsustainable for millions of households.

Suggested actions include a review of the impact of the Equality Act in improving web accessibility by the Equality and Human Rights Commission; obtaining more equal and fairly-priced services in taxis and private hire vehicles; and to encourage regulators, such as the Financial Conduct Authority, to investigate whether under-served groups have access to insurance that fairly reflects risk.

For me, this is an issue that cuts across political allegiance, but we must be clear in addressing current failings. My parliamentary contributions will aim to transform this report from recommendations to action, and I hope colleagues from across the Commons will join me.