Anne Wafula-Strike On Rationing Her Heating: 'It’s Expensive To Be Disabled'

The Paralympian asks: "How does this government expect us to live?”
Anne Wafula-Strike says she's rationing her heating.
Anne Wafula-Strike
Anne Wafula-Strike says she's rationing her heating.

Almost everyone has been affected by the cost of living crisis. In the last couple of months, Brits have been dealing with an increase in energy bills, fuel and food prices. Though millions are feeling the pinch, it’s having an acute impact on the disabled community.

Anne Wafula-Strike, the Kenyan-born British Paralympian, spoke to HuffPost UK about her concerns for herself and other disabled people as we head into winter.

Wafula-Strike contracted polio at two years old and is now experiencing post-polio syndrome. It’s a viral infection that affects people who have been diagnosed with polio, with symptoms including persistent fatigue, muscle weakness and shrinking, and muscle and joint pain.

“My body struggles to regulate heat or cold. So sometimes when I get cold, I can get cold for a very long time,” she explains. “This can have an effect on my sleeping pattern and things like that.”

Due to rising energy bills, she’s rationing how long she keeps the heating on each day. “Though I don’t want to, I’ve had to switch the heating on because what else can I do?” she adds.

Her disabled peers face similar problems. Newly-released figures from the Office for National Statistics show over half (55%) of disabled adults reported finding it difficult to afford their energy bills, and around a third (36%) found it difficult to afford their rent or mortgage payments compared with 40% and 27% of non-disabled people, respectively.

“Many of my disabled friends or peers are on medications which have serious side effects. You can experience a tremor if you’re cold so you have to keep the heating on,” says Wafula-Strike. “Sometimes it’s the nature of different disabilities where you have to stay warm all the time.”

John Walton - EMPICS via Getty Images

People with disabilities are having to choose between being warm or being sick and the latter can result in those people being hospitalised, adding more pressure on the NHS, she adds.

The wheelchair racer and campaigner feels disappointed in the government, but also nervous – not just for herself, but for the whole disabled community. “It’s not just about me, I’m worried for other disabled people in the UK and their families,” she says.

“Some people have to rely on machines to survive which requires electricity to be used throughout the day and night, how will that be rationed?”

Disabled people are also concerned about the current prices of food. Research company Kantar has revealed that consumers are set to pay £571 more this year for their groceries compared to last year.

Previous research from the ONS – released in August – found that bread, cereals, milk, cheese, meat, vegetables and eggs were all increasing the most in price for Brits. “It’s imperative that people with disabilities have a balanced diet as cutting out vegetables and fruits can make disabled people more susceptible to infection especially in the winter,” Wafula-Strike explains.

But her biggest concern is the cost of living payments given to disabled people. Currently, disabled people in the UK are entitled to a one-off payment of £150. It’s part of the government’s £15bn cost of living package which was unveiled back in May. Alongside the lump sum, the Treasury unveiled an extra £400 as part of an energy bills grant, an extra £650 payment for the worst-off households, and a £300 payment for pensioners.

Wafula-Strike says it is not enough. “We’re asking for this to be doubled or even tripled,” she says.

The disability equality charity Scope found earlier in 2022 that disabled people in England and Wales were twice as likely to live in poverty and more than twice as likely to live in a cold house they could not afford to heat.

James Taylor, the director of strategy at Scope, criticised the payment for not being sufficient support. “Life costs more when you’re disabled, so the £150 put forward by government won’t touch the sides,” he said.

The rising cost of living will have knock0on consequences for people’s health, and push them further into debt, the charity believes.

Wafula-Strike is equally afraid of what may lay ahead for disabled people. Jeremy Hunt has announced that his highly-anticipated financial statement – due on Halloween – will be delayed until November 17. It means we’ll have to wait longer for any announcements on tax, spending and cuts.

“I hope the disabled community won’t be thrown under the bus, because this tends to happen to disabled people,” Wafula-Strike says.

She worries about the future for disabled people as inflation is getting worse. “Disabled people are already struggling even with relying on carers and care homes. Carers are struggling to help us as they’re also suffering from the cost of living.”

Her message to the government and new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is to reconsider the one-off payment for disabled people. ”£150 doesn’t even touch the sides, they should do more and raise it to be in line with inflation,” she says.

“It’s not just me that’s worried, the whole disabled community has concerns. It’s expensive to be disabled, how does this government expect us to live?”