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Some disabled people have been forgoing meals or staying in one room of the house in order to tackle energy costs.

Nearly half (45 per cent) of disabled people in the UK have seen their energy bills increase since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a charity. Around a third (34 per cent) of disabled people said energy costs and usage have caused them concern or worry, disability equality charity Scope said. They said some disabled people have been forgoing meals or staying in one room of the house in order to tackle energy costs. Some 8 per cent of disabled people said they have made sacrifices to pay for energy bills.

The Opinium survey commissioned by Scope found that of more than 1,000 working age disabled people, 86 per cent have had no contact with their energy supplier regarding concerns about their bills.

“The pandemic has only served to exacerbate the situation and has left people feeling anxious about their increasing energy bills and in the dark about how and where to get help.”

He calls her his “wee ray of sunshine”; she says he brightens her day and talking to him breaks up the hours alone in the house. It’s an unlikely friendship between an 18-year-old student and a 70-year-old man, Chris, born out of the worst health crisis in a century.

Freya Riley, from Kelty in Fife, saw an appeal for volunteers on social media last March and stepped forward. “I knew that people were feeling alone and I wanted to help,” she said.

Riley was one of millions who have volunteered to help others over the course of the past year. New research to be published on Monday reveals that a staggering 12.4 million adults in the UK have volunteered during the pandemic – with more than a third stepping forward for the first time.

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The research, commissioned by Together, a coalition of organisations and community groups, found that the new army of volunteers live in all parts of the UK and come from different social, ethnic and faith backgrounds.

“It is one of the most pivotal ways to unite us and this is something the Covid-19 pandemic has really taught us.”

Riley, who is training to be a primary school teacher, wanted to “make a difference to someone’s day”. She phones Chris, with whom she was matched by a charity, twice a week for about half an hour.

“He’s interested in what’s going on in the world and we share a love of food and music. He says he’s seeing the world through a young person’s eyes, so that’s really nice. My grandparents have passed away so it’s good for me to chat to someone who is a bit older. We have a laugh and chat about nice things to cheer us both up and it means a lot to both of us.

“He calls me his ‘wee ray of sunshine’ because my call brightens up his day, and it’s lovely to hear that because it brightens my day, too. I thought I might do this for a few months, but we don’t plan on stopping.” Riley is now exploring other volunteering opportunities. “I would encourage people to give it a go. I never thought it would have such an impact on my life.”