Dad-of-two skipping meals for his son as disabled Britons 'dying behind closed doors'


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    Disabled people are in fear they will “die behind closed doors” as the price of energy and food pushes them into “medieval” living conditions, has been told. A disability rights campaigner, a full-time carer and a severely disabled man have shared their heart-wrenching stories of having to make life-changing decisions, feeling ignored by Government policy and starving themselves to keep their children fed. While the Government has provided a payment of £150 to those claiming disability benefits, has been told this is “irrelevant” and barely scratches the surface of what is needed.

    Paul Ridley, 57, from Milton Keynes, is a full-time unpaid carer for his son Keith, 33, who is severely autistic and requires 24 hour care. With bills piling up, Mr Ridley has had to skip meals to stay afloat.

    Mr Ridley said his son was at the more “extreme end of the scale” when it came to his autism, and with his wife also looks after their daughter, Christina, who has Asperger syndrome and who works full time as a cleaner.

    The unpaid carer told “I’m going to put the kids first – I always have done. So I go without meals myself, if need be. I’ve lost weight. I used to be around a 32 waist, and now I’m 28. I try and grab something to eat when I can, but the kids will always come first. If I have to go through that then I’m big enough and ugly enough to go through with it. I can bounce back once my son is sorted out.”

    According to Savanta ComRes, 25 percent of disabled adults studied said they had skipped a meal because they couldn’t afford it, while seven percent said they had less than just £10 a week to spend on food. Meanwhile, a recent study found that nine out of 10 families with a disabled child are falling behind on their regular household bills.

    Mr Ridley added that due to Keith’s autism, his family cannot easily switch to cheaper food alternatives or switch the heating off. Meanwhile his son’s meltdowns, exacerbated by the stress of the crisis, mean they have the washing machine running five times a day.

    George Baker with Paul and Keith Ridley

    George Baker (L) and Paul Ridley with his son Keith (R) (Image: George Baker / Paul Ridley)

    These kinds of decisions are being made by disabled families across the country, said Disability Rights UK’s policy officer Dan White, himself a carer for a disabled family member. He told “The choices families are being left with are very mediaeval, very archaic. You wouldn’t expect a forward-thinking country like the UK to be forcing people into these decisions.

    “There is absolutely a risk to life this winter. If people are still being forced to isolate, not use their devices and can’t turn the heating on, we’re going to sadly have cases of people dying behind closed doors. People are just being left. There is a huge risk to life.”

    The additional pressure on disabled families which, Mr White said, “may not be obvious to others”, comes due to the amount of additional equipment they require, as well as the necessity to keep the heating on due to conditions that make disabled people far more vulnerable to respiratory illnesses.

    This is the case for George Baker, 32, who has congenital muscular dystrophy – a lifelong condition which he says leaves him “very severely disabled” and in need of 24/7 care.

    Mr Baker, who lives in Southampton, told he was “struggling” with bills, adding: “I have a lot of extra expenses. I have the wheelchair, I have a ventilator that I use for a good portion of the day [both of which require charging], and other pieces of medical equipment. The other thing is that because I have carers with me all the time, there’s a lot more people in the house, and they’re using water and heating.

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    Paul and Keith Ridley

    Paul Ridley is a full-time carer for his son Keith (Image: Paul Ridley)

    “I get cold very easily, and I’m very vulnerable to respiratory illness. I can’t not use the heating.”

    Mr White said he had spoken with many wheelchair users who couldn’t afford to charge their wheelchairs, meaning they couldn’t leave their homes, while people who need electric lifts to ascend stairs were left stranded downstairs.

    Mr Baker, who in 2020 founded the Disability Union, which provides support and training for disabled people, said the National Grid’s warning of planned blackouts is terrifying for people in his position due to how essential his equipment is. He uses a ventilator to help him breathe, as his lungs do not properly process carbon dioxide – meaning if his ventilator runs out of charge, his body will effectively begin to poison itself.

    Mr Baker said: “It’s not acknowledged enough how this is impacting disabled people. People have to choose between food and heating – that’s not a choice that anybody should have to make.”

    Dad of two Mr Ridley added: “I’m absolutely dreading the colder months. It’s a rerun to my childhood. I always used to say, shall we go back to the 70s? But I didn’t actually mean it. Strikes, power cuts. That’s what it feels like.

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    George Baker

    George Baker said he faces many additional bills due to his disability (Image: George Baker)

    “The way things are getting, it doesn’t seem like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel at the moment.”

    Tory Cabinet minister Nadhim Zahawi insisted to Sky News on Sunday that winter blackouts are “extremely unlikely”, saying the Government “has a buffer”. He added: “It’s only right that we plan for every scenario.”

    Six million Britons who claim disability benefits received a £150 one-off payment in September to help with the rising costs, with the minister for disabled people, health and work at the time Chloe Smith urging people to check what help is available to them by searching Help for Households.

    Mr Ridley said he thought they were “in cloud cuckoo land” when he heard about the payment, adding: “I invite any of the ministers, from any party, including the Prime Minister or anyone from the cabinet, to come and spend a day in our life.

    “They say, go out and work. Okay, find me a time when I can go out to work. They need to get in the real world. They need to focus on the people at the bottom because if the carers go down, it’s going to cost the government a hell of a lot more than what they’re paying now.”

    Mr White added that we live in a society where “people’s value is placed on their productivity”, said that payments of these type were “not handouts – they’re literally keeping people alive”.

    A Government spokesperson said: “We know that living with a long-term illness or disability can impact on living costs, which is why we are supporting six million disabled people with an extra £150 payment. This is part of the £37billion package of support, which will see eight million low-income households receiving at least £1,200 in support this year, including £650 in direct Cost of Living payments.

    “We have also taken action to save households an average of £1,000 though our new Energy Price Guarantee and all households will receive a £400 discount on their energy bills.”


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