‘TRYING not to panic’ – a disabled Rugby woman and her family have told of how they are struggling with rising energy bills as winter approaches.
Nurse Laura Smith, 38, says bills are a constant cause of stress and is not hopeful for the future.
Laura, her social worker husband Neil, and their two autistic children Alfie, 13, and Leon, 15, have been making cutbacks and dipping into their overdraft as the cost-of-living crisis has worsened.
Laura has multiple sclerosis (MS) and spends a lot of time in hospital, which limits her working hours and earnings.
The family are saving money where they can, including Laura and Neil regularly having soup for meals because it’s less expensive.
Energy costs are their biggest worry – but Laura says the heating is a necessity as the cold can worsen her symptoms.
She said: “Having the heating on during the winter is a total non-negotiable for me. If I get too cold I can get ill.
“My symptoms get so bad that I can’t move and am at much higher risk of falling. But we’re still having to be more frugal. We put the heating on at a different temperature now and will put blankets on instead.
“I’m trying not to panic, but we are not managing. I don’t know how this is going to resolve itself.”
Diana Mansell, chair of the Hope4 charity which supports the town’s homeless and runs Rugby Foodbank, said it was ‘heart-rending’ that people were having to choose between heating or eating.
She added: “It is very worrying when it’s affecting people with disabilities and their use of vital equipment. It’s just not right.
“That is why Rugby Foodbank is supporting the Trussell Trust and Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s Guarantee Our Essentials campaign.
“Of course we all welcome the recent Cost of Living payments that many people have received. However we urge the government to review what we and other charities are seeking because we are on the ground meeting those struggling on a daily basis.
“Every week at Rugby Foodbank we meet people who are struggling to make ends meet and really worried about the coming cold winter months. For those needing to not just feed their families or put the heating on but keep vital equipment running, it is even more acutely felt and we have seen an increasing number of people accessing our services who are in debt or struggling with their health or both.
“We welcome all that the community are doing to help – be it donating food or volunteering at the Foodbank, or opening warm spaces for activities and to decrease social isolation over the cold winter months. I am always amazed at just what a caring community Rugby really is.”
The Smiths’ cause has been championed by disability charity Sense, which is calling for a social tariff on energy to help people through the winter.
Sense is calling for the government to introduce a discounted social energy tariff to protect disabled households struggling with energy bills.
Chief Executive Richard Kramer said: “It’s a desperate situation. Disabled people are being hit the hardest by the cost-of-living crisis. They are being forced to switch off their heating, or leave their homes to find a warm space in the community.
“The government cannot sit back and watch for a second winter, as more disabled people are forced into debt and ill-health.”
Rugby MP Mark Pawsey said Parliament’s Energy and Net Zero Select Committee, of which he is a member, has concluded there should be a tariff to support the most vulnerable.
He added: “However, there is still work to be done about how this could be implemented.
“The Government are consulting with the sector on reforming energy bills and I will continue to work closely with my colleagues in Parliament to ensure the right support is provided to families such as the Smiths.”
Visit https://tinyurl.com/2p86mbs7 for more on the Guarantee Our Essentials campaign.
Visit https://tinyurl.com/558jxvph for information about the Household Support Fund in Warwickshire.