“Seismic” impact of the cost of living crisis on disabled people

Published 12/07/2022   |   Last Updated 20/10/2022   |   Reading Time minutes

Many people are feeling the pinch of the cost of living crisis, but disability charities say spiralling living and energy costs are hitting disabled people hardest.

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. – Leonard Cheshire

Why are disabled people hit hardest?

Inflation is predicted to rise to around 11% this year, and it’s widely reported that prices for food, energy and fuel are continuing to rise at the fastest rate in 40 years.

Life is more expensive for disabled people and their families. They have to spend more on essential goods and services like heating, insurance, specialist equipment, accessible transport, specialist food and therapies.

The Welsh Government says disabled people will be disproportionately impacted by the rising costs of living because they’re more likely to be unemployed and to have low incomes.

Many disabled people rely on taxis or adapted vehicles for transport, and often face higher costs for gas and electricity. Many need extra heating to keep their temperature stable, and have to use more electricity to power and charge essential items of assistive technology. Extra energy is needed for powering vital equipment such as hoists, beds, breathing equipment, powered chairs and monitors. Scope says:

People who rely on high energy usage to keep them alive have no alternative – if you use a ventilator or have vital medical equipment, there is no choice but to pay these higher costs.

What about children and young people?

Barnardo’s Cymru highlighted in evidence to the Senedd’s Economy, Trade and Rural Affairs Committee that disabled children and young people are often in specialised education, respite settings, and leisure groups which means families have to travel further. More frequent of medical appointments also contributes to greater fuel use.

The charity explained that disabled children and young people also spend more time at home due to illness or challenging behaviour. This increases the use of electricity and heating in the home. Many disabled children and young people, particularly those with autism, have rigid diets, so it’s difficult to make substitutions for cheaper options.

What does this look like in numbers?

Scope’s 2019 Disability Price Tag research shows that before the cost of living crisis, the extra costs faced by disabled people added up to £583 a month on average. It also shows):

  • on average, a disabled person’s extra costs were equivalent to almost half of their income (not including housing costs); and
  • one in five disabled people (and almost one in four families with disabled children) faced extra costs of more than £1,000 a month.

The situation is certain to be more stark now.

April 2022 research by Leonard Cheshire reveals that around 600,000 disabled people in the UK have £10 or less per week to pay for food and other essentials. It found that around one in four working-age disabled people are struggling to pay for essentials like food and heating. The charity says with soaring food, energy and fuel costs this year, the impact on disabled people could be “catastrophic”.

The charity Sense polled disabled people and families caring for a disabled person in June 2022.. This found that more than half (54%) of those polled said they’re in debt, with more than a third (38%) skipping meals to save money. 74% said they’ll be unable to cope if prices continue to rise, and 68% said the pressure is affecting their mental health.

What’s being done to help?

Both the Welsh and UK Governments have introduced cost of living support measures. Further information is available in our cost of living support guide.

In terms of targeted support, the UK Government acknowledges that disabled people can face a wide range of additional costs. It’s providing a £150 Disability Cost of Living Payment (from September) to people who receive disability benefits such as Disability Living Allowance (DLA), Personal Independence Payment (PIP) or Attendance Allowance (AA).

The UK Government says that for many disability benefit recipients who receive means tested benefits, this £150 will come on top of the £650 payment available to certain people on lower incomes. But Leonard Cheshire notes that disabled people on non-means tested benefits, like PIP and DLA, are not entitled to the £650, and will only receive the £150 payment. The charity says:

This will barely make a dent in the rising costs of food and energy – not to mention the additional costs that come with having a disability in the first place.

Planned changes to the UK Government’s Warm Home Discount scheme mean that some people on DLA, PIP and AA will no longer be able to claim the £150 payment to help towards energy costs. With the changes not proposed until the end of the year, disability charities are calling for the UK Government to reverse this decision.

What more could to be done?

A new UK Disability Poverty Campaign Group was founded in April 2022 and it has highlighted three immediate areas for action:

  • Urgent increase in all benefits in line with inflation;
  • Targeted support for disabled people’s energy costs; and
  • Fairer charging for social care.

There’s consensus among disability charities that at a minimum, there must be an urgent universal uplift in benefits, along with further targeted support to take account of disabled people’s extra costs of living.

Scope notes that PIP, the main disability benefit that’s meant to take into account extra costs, has only been increased by 3.1 per cent, based on inflation rates from September last year.

Benefits are due to increase in April 2023 to match this September’s inflation rate. Charities including Citizen’s Advice want to see this brought forward to help people struggling with the cost of living, particularly energy bills.

The UK Treasury says there are technical constraints in making earlier payments. But the Resolution Foundation responded, "If they get started now, they can do it before the next energy price rise in October."

Leonard Cheshire  says a lack of adequate social care is also compounding the financial difficulties faced by disabled people, including limiting their ability to work. Better access to social care would boost incomes, A quarter (24%) of disabled people surveyed said they had been unable to work due to inadequate social care support. 

As living costs continue to soar, there are grave concerns about how disabled people will cope unless further action is taken to support them.

Article by Amy Clifton, Senedd Research, Welsh Parliament