The rising cost-of-living and increased energy bills are adding more financial strain and worry to people with disabilities, and disability groups are calling on the Government to increase their allowance in the Budget.
Jessica Keegan from Co Limerick has cerebral palsy and her average monthly energy bill is €90. Her only source of income is her disability allowance of €208 per week.
She says she doesn't know how she will make ends meet if her energy bills continue to go up.
"The costs I have make me concerned in general every week. It worries me," Ms Keegan said.
"Up until around three weeks ago, I wasn’t aware this was going to affect us the way it is, and I'm a very sensitive person so it took a toll on me emotionally. I'm worried about what happens in the winter when we’ve to cope with reduced energy or possible blackouts because I wouldn’t be able to charge my wheelchair or my phone, and I live alone."
The Disability Federation of Ireland is urging Government to increase the disability allowance by at least €20 per week. It says Budget 2023 must deliver real social protection for those who are unable to work due to disability and chronic illness.
Enda Gallagher from Co Clare attends the Enable Ireland adult day services in Limerick with Ms Keegan.
He lives rurally with his mother, who is in receipt of a pension, and says the cost-of-living is something they are both concerned about.
"We’re just trying to live from day to day with the costs. It makes me feel nervous, I don’t know what to expect," he said. "I’d say now come the real winter we’ll notice the increase. It’s just scary. It’s a worry for me and my mum.
"I think the Government needs to look at something. To know that I am, as a disabled person, going to get a bit extra, to know I have an extra bit of money - I won’t say to play around with - but to know it’s there for any extra food or anything I need."
Centre manager Dolores Ryan worries that service users will end up having to choose between putting the heating on in their homes and buying food if costs continue to rise.
"One of the biggest things is the unknown. A lot of users are anxious about what everything will cost next week. Evidently our users need the buildings and home to be heated, where you or I can move around to warm up, these individuals are wheelchair users and will feel the cold more, so they have to plan for that," she said.
"I know Jessica has come to me to talk about budgeting and how she’s going to manage, she’s seen an increase and is concerned. What I don’t want is her cutting back on food to pay for something else, that would concern me, or turning off the heating and thinking she’ll be ok when she won’t."
The rising cost of everything is cause for concern for Ms Ryan as a large aspect of the service they provide is transporting service users to and from the centre using their fleet of accessible buses. They also use their buses to bring people to hospital appointments and other places they need to attend where public transportation isn’t a viable option.
"Since January we’ve seen a 40% increase in the fuel costs for our fleet, the cost of maintenance and repair has also increased and we’re 100% funded by the HSE and we’re managing all that. People need to come here for a service, it’s not an option to cancel," she said.
Ms Ryan has also noticed that members of her staff are growing worried.
"We’ve staff with young families and they’ve specific hours they work with us and they’ve approached about additional hours in the evenings or on weekends. We're going to have groups to talk about all of this, I don’t want people worrying. People who you don’t know are worrying, are worrying. So we’re going to try to do anything we can do to alleviate the pressures."
She is hopeful that energy caps will be announced in the Budget as this will help everyone.
"I would hope to see the rise of €20 per week for the disability allowance. It’s not a huge amount of money with the additional needs people have. I would also expect support for people across the board to deal with energy costs, and that will help the cohort of people using our service as well.
"If Jessica and Enda could know their bills aren’t going to go up, they’re just about managing with what they are now, so that would take away some of the worry."