Winter Survival Appeal: For many disabled people, help from Merton Centre has been pivotal

With no end in sight to cost-of-living crisis, Anna Davis talks to those benefiting from key financial advice
Angie, Estifanos Habtesellasie and Alvarine Samuel at the Merton Centre
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Anna Davis @_annadavis8 December 2023

Four years ago Alvarine was fit, healthy and working full time. Now the 48-year-old is in chronic pain, uses a wheelchair and struggles to keep up with her bills.

Merton Centre for Independent Living has been pivotal in helping her cope with the change in her life circumstances, made worse by the rising cost of living.

The charity says that spiralling food prices and energy bills are disproportionately affecting disabled people like Alvarine and estimate that households with one disabled member face additional monthly costs of £975.

This is because many disabled people rely on taxis, pre-prepared food and extra heating and clothing to keep warm.

Alvarine told the Standard: “I sit down all day and get cold easily so heat really helps, but my electricity bills have increased so much. My food bills are expensive because I have to get things I can microwave as I can’t manage the oven. I can’t even afford a Christmas tree.”

Her monthly electricity bill is £412, but she can only afford to pay £300. “I am accumulating debt which is very scary,” she said. “I worry they will put me on a pre-payment meter and I will not be able to top up.”

Alvarine’s health deteriorated sharply in 2019 when she suffered kidney failure. She spent months in hospital where she also suffered from gastritis and colitis. Today, she has been left in chronic pain and with lymphedema, which causes her legs to swell.

Evening Standard

Merton CIL runs money management workshops in response to the increased needs of members.

It also runs an information and advice service, supporting disabled people with issues relating to social care, benefits and low income, concessionary travel, health, and housing. Staff and volunteers run “craftivism and chat” sessions to help with isolation and loneliness, and campaign on issues that affect deaf and disabled people.

Funding from our Winter Survival Appeal — run in partnership with Comic Relief — will support the running costs of its day-to-day services.

David Jenkins, joint CEO of Merton CIL, said: “We are a small charity and have a waiting list, but we are committed to support more disabled people to increase their independence.”

Merton CIL helped Alvarine by giving her advice about benefits and with her move to a downstairs flat.

Another beneficiary, Angie, 50, a mother of three, said she does not know how she would have coped without them. She survived homelessness and suffers with a condition that makes it painful to walk and uses crutches. Her children also have mobility problems.

Angie said: “This organisation made me feel I could cope. When I first walked in and saw it was run by disabled people, I felt comfortable, like I could trust them.”

Merton CIL gave Angie housing advice and helped her claim personal independent payments. She now volunteers for the charity, attends the monthly craftivism and chat sessions and uses her experience to make things better for local disabled people.

How you can help

£10 could provide a nourishing meal for a Londoner every day for a month

£20 could provide a duvet and pillow to a young person helping them sleep at night

£50 could contribute to a new school uniform for a child fleeing with a parent from an abusive relationship

£100 could provide 400 meals for families at a local community centre

£300 could pay for all that’s needed by a family expecting a baby, including new cot, mattress and pram

£1,750 could get a truck packed with enough food for 7,000 meals

In a nutshell

We have partnered with Comic Relief to launch our Winter Survival Appeal Christmas Campaign, with Comic Relief pledging £500,000 to kick off our fund. The money we raise will help fund charities in London and across the country helping people who are struggling with the cost of living crisis

To make a donation, just scan the QR code or visit