Cost of living crisis: disabled people pay the price

A woman walks through a supermarket pushing a trolley
5 May 2022

With the announcement that shop prices have increased by 2.7% since last year, and the war in Ukraine is fueling a record high in global food prices, it seems that the cost of living crisis is going nowhere.

With local elections taking place across the UK today, every party is weighing in on the issue - but where is the voice of disabled people? With our research, we bridge the gap.

The rising cost of living is a real concern for many people at the moment, with the price of food, energy, and petrol rocketing, compounded by inflation and changes to national insurance contributions. But for many disabled people and older people, financial vulnerability is an ongoing issue that impacts many of the decisions they make.  

Simply put, life is more expensive for disabled people and their families, spending more on things like essential services, mobility equipment and vital therapies.  

Disabled people also often need more heating to stay comfortable, extra electricity to charge assistive technology devices and petrol to get about due to limited transport options. 

The disability charity Scope estimates that the extra costs experienced by disabled people amount to £583 a month (according to its 2019 ‘Disability Price Tag’ report). A figure which will no doubt have risen.

Below the poverty line 

As well as increased costs, disabled people are less likely to be employed and earn less when they do work, increasing their reliance on the welfare system. 

In fact, our recent survey of almost 1,000 RiDC panel members shows that the majority live in poverty. Over half (57 per cent) have an annual household income below the UK poverty line. As a result, the same number (57 per cent) struggle to pay bills and 84 per cent worry about having enough money to pay for things.  

RiDC CEO Gordon McCullough says:

“People on our panel tell us they are making choices everyday about whether to pay a bill or put food on their table. These are the difficult decisions people simply shouldn’t have to make.” 

Nom is 29, she lives in Essex and is a member of the RiDC Consumer Panel of disabled people.

She says that costs are becoming more and more unmanageable: 

“I’ve got a health condition that weakens my bones, and the cold makes it much worse. I have to have my heating on regularly to keep it at a manageable temperature for me.  

“I have an adapted vehicle to travel in but at the moment petrol is so expensive I am having to limit using it (despite having hospital appointments back to back), and save the money for gas and electric. Public transport is sometimes not accessible for me as a wheelchair user or they don’t serve where I need to go. 

“If I want to have a good level of physical and mental wellbeing – making sure my condition doesn’t deteriorate and getting out and seeing friends – I have to cover these extra costs somehow.  

“I often ask myself whether I can afford to do a full food shop or put money on my electricity, and I have to make sacrifices and not do things with my friends if they have a cost. Often if I’m at home I stay in my room with lots of layers on and just heat that room instead of the whole house, to save on the electricity 

“It’s horrible feeling like you can’t provide for yourself and its out of your control.”

A difficult few years  

The recent RiDC research also shows that many respondents experienced a significant life event in the past two years including major personal illness or injury (47 per cent), bereavement (26.3 per cent) or retirement (10.4 per cent). Over half  of respondents stated the life event caused financial difficulty.  

It has been a tough time for many. But on top of this, Coronavirus has hit vulnerable people the hardest. According to Scope, a third (35 per cent) of disabled people say their finances have become worse since the start of the pandemic.  

Nom says: 

“The pandemic made me need to stay at home constantly, which increased costs a lot. Before, I would regularly go to my mum’s house so I wouldn’t need the heating on, and I could eat there too. Both food and heating went up a lot for me.” 

A way forward 

RiDC CEO Gordon McCullough says:

“It is vital that we find a way to remove the unfair barriers including the cost of being a disabled person in the UK today and don’t expect people to continue to foot the bill.” 

Accessing financial services and relevant financial advice from banks or other providers should be the minimum people can expect. But it proves challenging for many disabled customers, with in-person services reducing, software not being disability-friendly, added costs, and difficulty in finding advice that will help them."

Gordon adds:

“This has been an issue for disabled consumers for a long time. The good news is that we are seeing many more companies come to us looking to gauge how accessible their services are. However, inaccessible services and products still affect the lives of disabled people and can even contribute to higher living costs. Past research shows people face barriers in many areas of their lives including using smart home devices and energy controls, online price comparison websites, even being able to recycle their household items or open particular packaging.” 

“This won’t change until we stop seeing the ‘problem’ to be associated with the person themself instead of the world around them that hasn’t been designed with the varying needs of all people in mind.”      

 If you are a disabled person and want to give your opinion on these issues which affect us all, you can become part of the RiDC Consumer Panel and feedback to the people who make and run things. It’s free to join and we will match your circumstance to specific research opportunities.

Find out more here