A third of disabled people are struggling financially: age, income-level and types of impairment are key influencing factors

11 September 2023

Research finds there is insufficient support available for people with disabilities and calls for greater focus on the different needs that disabled people have. One-in-three disabled people are struggling to make ends meet (in comparison with one-in-ten non-disabled adults). New findings show some disabled people are much more likely to face financial hardship than others; this can be due to the type and nature of a person’s impairment, as well as factors such as age.

Researchers from a team at the University of Bristol’s Personal Finance Research Centre and the Research Institute for Disabled Consumers (supported by abrdn Financial Fairness Trust) investigated financial wellbeing among disabled people with a new focus on demographics and impairment type. They found that, while many disabled people in the UK are struggling financially, age, income-level and types of impairment are key factors in influencing disabled people’s living standards and what they can afford.

The survey of 815 people found that age and income contribute to differences in disabled people’s financial wellbeing:

  • Working age disabled adults reported significantly worse financial wellbeing than those of pensionable age on all financial wellbeing measures.
  • Disabled people on the lowest incomes, those in receipt of benefits and those not undertaking any paid work also had higher levels of financial difficulty.

The research also showed that disabled people with specific types of impairments, below, have significantly higher odds of experiencing financial problems than disabled people overall:

  • Physical mobility impairments
  • Learning difficulties
  • Mental health conditions
  • Multiple health conditions
  • Conditions that affect one’s appearance
  • Disabilities acquired suddenly
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Non-visible conditions (inc. mental health and chronic fatigue)
  • Memory-related conditions.

Nearly two-in-five (37%) disabled people who acquired their disability suddenly were in a ‘constant struggle’ to pay their bills and 36% were unable to afford occasional treats for themselves or their family. This compares with 24% and 20% respectively for those who had been disabled since birth.

Lack of money can have serious negative impacts on disabled people’s mental and physical health, when they are already living with often complex, multiple health conditions. As a direct result of money worries, in the last six months:

  • Three-in-ten (27%) disabled adults are in serious financial difficulty, compared to one-in-ten (11%) of non-disabled adults.
  • Nearly one-in-three (29%) disabled people said that ‘it is a constant struggle’ to meet their bills and credit commitments.
  • 52% had been unable to keep their home warm and comfortable.
  • Nearly a third (32%) had avoided going to the dentist or receiving dental treatment as a result of the cost, while a quarter (25%) had cut down or stopped receiving medical services that they had been paying privately for – such as counselling or physiotherapy.

While cutting back may reduce financial costs, ultimately this can come with a hefty price tag in terms of the impact on disabled people’s health. When asked how they felt their financial situation was affecting their health, 45% of disabled people said it was making their mental health worse, while 40% felt this was true of their physical health. Among those in receipt of benefits, this rises to 49% for mental health and 43% for physical health. For those on the lowest incomes, these rise yet further to 57% and 50% respectively.

To improve disabled people’s living standards and ensure they have equal rights to full inclusion and participation in UK society, the researchers argue that four things are urgently needed:

  • Better access to employment for those who can work: Three-in-ten (29%) working age disabled people felt they had been discriminated against by employers or potential employers because of their impairment. A quarter (26%) said that employers had failed to make reasonable adjustments for them.
  • A benefits system that provides a proper safety net: Half (47%) of disabled people receiving Universal Credit were struggling to pay for food and other essentials, as were a third (35%) of those in receipt of Personal Independence Payment. Most (71%) disabled people who received benefits agreed that they had been made to feel guilty about applying for benefits, while 82% felt that uncertainty about benefits makes it harder for them to plan their future finances.
  • Targeted support to reduce the costs of disability: Three-quarters of disabled people (75%) agreed that they have “particularly high costs” due to their impairment, such as high energy and water costs. These costs may amount to more than £1,100 per month, according to research from Scope.
  • Access to essential services and advice: Half of disabled people (53%) reported difficulties getting to a bank branch; and four-in-ten (37%) said they had problems getting to or using a cash machine. Most of our survey respondents said they had accessed advice or information on financial matters, but only three-in-ten of them (29%) were satisfied with the quality of the advice or information that was available.

Mubin Haq, CEO of abrdn Financial Fairness Trust, said:

“There is an urgent need for better financial support for people with disabilities. Nearly half of disabled people believe their financial situation is making their physical and mental health worse, which makes it even harder for disabled people to access work opportunities. It is essential we address this challenge if we are going to address the severe labour shortages we have in the UK, and improve living standards and the well-being of disabled people. This could be a win-win situation but at present government policy is heading in the wrong direction.”

Professor Sharon Collard, Chair in Personal Finance at the University of Bristol, said:

“There are examples of positive changes already happening on some of the issues we highlight in the report. But to make a real difference, major changes are required to ensure that all disabled people in the UK have a decent standard of living. Just as important is the need to change the public conversation about disability and disabled people in the UK – who make up nearly one-in-four (24%) of our total population - in order to challenge negative narratives and harmful stereotypes.

Gordon McCullough, CEO of the Research Institute for Disabled Consumers, said: "This report highlights the disability trap many disabled people find themselves in where the cost-of-living crisis has exacerbated the extra costs associated with being disabled. We hope this report shows the importance of fully appreciating the challenges and barriers disabled people face when understanding what financial wellbeing means to them.”

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