Rising costs are a catastrophe for disabled people


Around one in four working-age disabled people in the UK struggle to pay for essentials like food and heating, as their budgets get stretched to breaking point.

A female wheelchair user with her guide dog and carer in a supermarket
  • New research paints a bleak picture of disabled people struggling to pay for essentials.
  • More than 600,000 disabled people in the UK estimated to have £10 or less per week to pay for food and other costs.
  • More than half left anxious, depressed or hopeless by financial worries.
  • Around a quarter surveyed in 2022 had missed meals or not heated their homes.

Disabled people must be prioritised for financial support, says disability charity Leonard Cheshire. The charity’s UK-wide research revealed how around 600,000 disabled people already have just £10 or less per week to pay for food and other essentials.

With food, energy and fuel cost rises set to skyrocket in the coming year, the impact on disabled people could be catastrophic.  

A quarter of those polled (25%) in the nationally representative survey said they had missed a meal because they could not afford it. Meanwhile, over a quarter (28%) had not been able to afford to keep their home warm. A third (30%) had asked for financial help from friends or family.  

One disabled person told the charity:

“From just being able to survive with creative cost cutting, it has now become impossible”. They had to resort to only eating foods that do not need cooking, wearing the same clothes many days to limit washing machine use and showering in cold water. 

Another said: “It’s either heat or eat. I live on pasta and noodles. No nights out, no fun. No money for equipment. Stuck at home and socially isolated!”

The mental health impact of financial pressures on disabled people is stark. Over half (55%) said they felt anxious, depressed or hopeless about financial worries and problems.

“I feel like I’m spiralling out of control in costs. It increases my worries in this cost-of-living crisis,” explained Kyle, a university student who has been relying on food banks. “It has impacted my social life. I have to turn down social opportunities. I haven’t got the money to meet up.”

Shockingly, 7%, which is the equivalent of more than half a million (612,710) disabled people if applied across the UK, had £10 or less left per week for food and other essentials after paying for housing, tax and other bills*. Meanwhile, a third (33%) of those surveyed reported having £50 or less per week left. 

The poverty rate among working age disabled adults is almost twice as high as non-disabled working age adults.** 

Leonard Cheshire believes by not increasing benefits in line with inflation this year and effectively cutting support in real terms, the government risks pushing disabled people below the breadline. Lack of adequate social care is also compounding the financial difficulties faced by disabled people, including limiting their ability to work. 

Recent government policies and lack of action is widening inequality, says the charity. Changes to the Warm Home Discount will cut eligibility for almost 300,000 disabled people.

The charity wants the government to increase benefits in line with inflation and to reverse proposed changes to the Warm Home Discount. Better access to social care would also boost incomes for disabled people, with a quarter (24%) of disabled people surveyed saying they had been unable to work due to inadequate social care support. 

Ruth Owen, CEO of Leonard Cheshire, said:

“How can anyone manage a weekly shop with £10? Many disabled people face impossible choices and are living day-by-day on a financial knife edge. The Government needs to recognise this and urgently act to avoid a desperate situation becoming a catastrophe.

“Last year, disabled people were telling us that they wanted to be able to 'thrive and not just survive' through better access to social care. Distressingly, the situation is deteriorating. The cost-of-living crisis is pushing more and more disabled people to despair and into poverty.

“Individuals on very low incomes can face unavoidable extra costs daily just to manage their condition. The strain these budgets will be under in the coming months will be seismic.”


Media enquiries

For more information contact Erin O’Reilly, Communications Manager, at erin.o’reilly@leonardcheshire.org or 020 3242 0342. Out of hours: 07903 949 388.

Notes to editor

About the research

Savanta ComRes interviewed 1,207 working age disabled adults (18-64) in the UK between 17 to 21 February 2022 about their experiences in the previous 12 months. Data were weighted to be nationally representative of working age disabled adults in the UK by age, gender and region.

Full datasets from the survey will be available from 20th April.

Notes

* The UK working-age population in Oct-Dec 2021 (latest figures available) was 8,753,000 people. 7% (£10 or less) is the equivalent of 612,710 disabled working-age adults. Source: ONS, Labour market status of disabled people.

** UK poverty 2022 (full report), Joseph Rowntree Foundation p58/59. According to charity the Trussell Trust, 62% of working age people referred to their food banks in early 2020 were disabled. 

Disabled people already incur daily extra costs just to manage their condition. In our research more than half (52%) of disabled respondents told the charity they experience extra costs or bills as a direct consequence of their disability, rising to more than two-thirds (69%) of people with mobility needs.

Extra costs include reliance on specialist foodstuffs, increased energy use or other costs associated with specialist equipment and travel.