Sal Brinton “horrified” by lack of protection for disabled people during power cuts

We’ve seen how the storms currently battering the UK have left thousands without power.

This can have life-threatening consequences for disabled people, who need their electricity supply to power essential equipmen such as breathing machines.

The BBC spoke to one woman who reported being without mains power for 13 hours. Michaela Hollywood said that without her generator, she would not have been able to breathe:

I am incredibly lucky to have a generator – that is enough to power my equipment – so it gives a little bit of comfort for me, but that’s not the case for others,” she said.

No electricity, that obviously puts my life at risk, as well as other disabled people across the United Kingdom, and unfortunately we’ve been left to make our own crisis plans to make sure our lives are protected.

For me, it’s always about prioritising my equipment and trying to not panic even though you have that deep-seeded feeling of panic, of what are we going to do if this goes wrong?

It’s that fear of maybe not being able to breathe, maybe having to pull an all nighter and not sleep, which is very real and very dangerous.

This is something that has been on our Sal Brinton’s radar for a while. She has been pushing the Government to ensure that power companies were compelled to have a plan in place for disabled people at risk if the power supply was cut. She said she was “horrified” that the Government had decided not to do so and just to push the whole thing back to disabled people. She told the Disability News Service:

This is a merry-go-round of civil servants trying to push the problem onto somebody else. It’s finally landed back with disabled people.

So what could the Government do? Why not, as the DNS article suggests, ensure suppliers issue a portable battery pack to anyone with equipment that they rely on to stay alive:

Last week, DNS reported how UKPN, one of six distribution network operators (DNOs) responsible for maintaining the electricity network across Britain, was trialling a scheme that would loan a free portable battery pack to those relying on life-saving equipment who were signed up to the priority services register, if there was a power cut over four hours long.

But it refused to answer any questions about its plans, while the Energy Networks Association, whose members include UKPN, refused to say if the other five DNOs would run similar schemes for their disabled customers.

With extreme weather events becoming more frequent, action is needed sooner rather than later so that there is no postcode or supplier lottery for disabled people.

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  • Andrew Toye 24th Jan '24 - 1:28pm

    What exacerbates this problem is the phasing-out of landline telephone connections. In a power cut, you cannot call for help as the digital alternative relies on the domestic power supply (and in some residences, there isn’t a decent mobile signal either). The argument is on economic and environmental cost, but why can’t the removal of copper cables be accompanied by the roll-out of fibre-optic lines with landline systems retained? The government needs to urgently rethink

  • Following-on from Andrew Toye’s comment, a lot of domestic emergency assistance alarm systems (eg fall alarms for the elderly) rely on analogue phone lines.

    We recently tried to transfer my mother-in-law’s home phone service to BT, and they flat refused to provide an analogue service, even though the house is already wired to their copper network. They will only offer a digital service to new customers, that most alarm systems currently aren’t compatible with. Even if they are compatible in the future, the issue remains that they won’t work during a power cut unless a robust backup power system is included.

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