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Health and wealth: Disabled people bear the brunt of the cost-of-living crisis

Paloma Kubiak
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Paloma Kubiak

Disabled people are more likely to have lower incomes, face material deprivation and are having to make cutbacks on bills more than their non-disabled colleagues.

The cost-of-living crisis is impacting everyone to a greater or lesser degree, but a leading think tank has focused on its effect on people with disabilities.

This is because disability is on the rise in Britain, shown by the increase in share of the working-age population from 17% to 23% since 2013 – over 2.6 million people.

The Resolution Foundation also noted that disabled people are more vulnerable to the rising cost of essentials, as food and energy tend to make up a greater share of their budgets on average, compared to non-disabled people.

As part of its study – a survey of 8,000 working-age adults, 2,000 of who reported a long-term illness or disability – it found that there is a wide gap in incomes.

Disabled people have an average income of £21,405 compared to non-disabled workers’ £27,766, a 30% gap in 2020/21.

But as this income includes disability benefits, by excluding them, the gap rises to 44% (£19,319).

The authors of the report, Omar El Dessouky and Charlie McCurdy also revealed that people with a disability are far more likely to be poor than the rest of the population.

One in three adults in the lowest household income decile have a disability compared to one in ten of adults in the highest income sector.

They cite the “relatively low employment rate” as a factor behind this, with 54% of disabled adults being in work, compared to 82% of non-disabled adults.

But employment status is just one aspect of the income gap, and the think tank also suggests the kinds of jobs disabled people work in, including typical pay and the number of hours worked, as a contributing factor.

Material deprivation

This relates to whether someone is unable to afford essential goods or services and here, the think tank reported 34% of disabled people meeting this mark in 2020/21. This is almost three times the share among the non-disabled population.

Further, disabled people are more likely to live in cold homes. Even before the current crisis, 9% of disabled people (compared to 2% of non-disabled people) couldn’t afford to keep their homes warm. But by the end of November 2022, two-fifths of disabled people said they couldn’t afford to keep their homes warm, almost twice the share of the non-disabled population (23%).

As such, disabled people are having to cut back on energy use, more than their non-disabled counterparts. The survey revealed that nearly half (48%) of disabled people have cut back on energy use, while a third without a disability said the same.

Food insecurity has also risen sharply, as the think tank explained that the cost of essentials such as food have risen at a fast pace and price hikes are hard to avoid.

Spending on food and energy also takes up a larger fraction of the budget of low-income households, meaning there is less scope to create a buffer by cutting other areas of household expenditure.

In addition, low-income households tend to have lower savings to fall back on and already face additional costs, such as specialist equipment and home adaptations, extra transport costs, medication, insurance and therapies for their disability.

But the cost-of-living crisis is also having a negative effect on their health, and while inflation may have peaked, many are still worried about the cost of essentials.

Further help and support required

The authors wrote: “The living standards of disabled people are significantly lower than the non-disabled population and, even before the cost-of-living crisis, a far higher share of disabled people reported living in materially deprived households than people without disabilities.

“This report has shown that people with disabilities are already cutting back on energy use and the amount they spend on food this winter, by a greater degree than those without disabilities. People with disabilities are more likely to be worried about the cost of essentials and to say that the crisis is making their health worse. Disabled adults also went into the crisis with already weak living standards.

“Central government – and local governments, through the Household Support Fund (or equivalent programmes outside England) – must consider how to provide more help for people with disabilities through the remaining months of winter. Further measures should ideally encompass a broader focus on lower living standards for the disabled population, and support for both those who wish to work, and those who cannot.”

Earlier this week, the government announced that a further £150 Cost of Living disability payment is to be made to disabled people this summer, while eight million people in receipt of means-tested benefits are to receive £900 to help with rising costs from April.