Ticking health timebomb caused by cost-of-living crisis

12 June 2023

New data finds rising prices have led to people making dramatic cutbacks on essential healthcare which could affect their long-term wellbeing. One-in-five (19%) households are putting off dental treatments due to worries about costs. A third (35%) were not able to afford a healthy balanced diet at least once in the past month. 33% report that financial worries cause them to sleep poorly at night and 35% say that their financial situation is making their mental health worse. 27% say their financial situation is making their physical health worse.

Researchers found the situation is particularly concerning for those categorised as in ‘serious financial difficulties’ (9.6 million people live in such households). One-in-five of those in serious financial difficulties had not eaten for a whole day at least three times during the last month. In this group, as a direct result of needing to cut back on spending to save money:

  • 82% were not able to afford a healthy balanced diet at least once in the past month
  • 46% are putting off dental treatments
  • 19% are avoiding medical appointments
  • 18% cannot afford medications or medical equipment

The Financial Fairness Tracker, commissioned by abrdn Financial Fairness Trust and analysed by a team at the University of Bristol, has been monitoring the personal finances of households since the start of the pandemic (sample around 6,000 people).

Illustrating how hard those on the lowest incomes have been hit by the cost-of-living crisis, many indicators of wellbeing which affect physical and mental health are lower than at the start of the pandemic. Of those in serious financial difficulties, 61% of households reported not being able to keep their home warm and comfortable in the last six months. Similar numbers said they were cutting back social on social interaction with friends and family (64%) and participating less in hobbies and pastimes (61%).

Three in four households cutting back

Researchers looked at which households are cutting back, and what areas they are reducing spending. This leads them to describe cost-cutting as “the new normal”, with only 26% of households not having taken measures to cut back, the majority are taking steps to cut costs in one or more areas. Of all households over the last six months:

  • 49% have cut back on eating out and takeaways
  • 46% are shopping at cheaper supermarkets/bought cheaper food products
  • 35% have not booked holidays or breaks away

On a general level, financial well-being is lower than it was when the first survey took place at the start of the pandemic (April 2020). Since then, there has been an 11 percentage point decrease in households who are financially secure (from 37% to 26% of households).

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

“The cost-of-living crisis is having a  serious impact on  decisions millions are making about their health. It is shocking that people are routinely delaying dental treatment, not taking medication, and not eating due to their inability to afford these essentials. Short-term cost savings are likely to have long-lasting consequences to the nation’s health. This is a high price to pay and could have knock-on effects on the labour market with people being unable to work due to poor health.

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

“The worsening levels of food insecurity caused by rising living costs cannot be ignored. The number of people who cannot afford to eat healthily, or even eat three meals a day, is worrying. Although government has taken welcome steps to support those who are worst off, these figures show that more needs to be done to help; relying on food banks is not a viable long-term solution.”

Read the report