Financial wellbeing is essential to delivering the UN’s vision of ‘the equal right of all persons with disabilities to live in the community, with choices equal to others, and […] full inclusion and participation in the community’. Over 14 million people in the UK have a disability and this number is expected to grow due to ageing and an increase in chronic diseases.

At an aggregate level, disabled people already had low financial wellbeing before 2020 which the pandemic exacerbated and will be made worse by the cost-of-living crisis.

This briefing uses data from the sixth wave of the Coronavirus Financial Impact Tracker survey to provide an up-to-date picture of the financial wellbeing of disabled households. Overall, the survey reveals the largest decrease in financial wellbeing that we have seen throughout all six waves since the start of the pandemic. This decrease is especially pronounced for disabled households, compounding years of relative financial disadvantage. 

The briefing starts by providing an overview of the financial wellbeing of disabled households in the UK compared to non-disabled households. It then looks at the factors that help explain disabled households’ lower-than-average levels of financial wellbeing, notably levels and sources of income, spending, and the financial pressures created by the cost of living crisis. We conclude by looking at what the survey can tell us about disabled households’ use of money guidance and advice, which shows a worrying gap between the information and help that disabled people want and what they are able to access.  

Key findings

Households with a disabled person fare worse on a range of financial wellbeing indicators. They were more likely to report being anxious when thinking about their financial situation (69% vs 54%), have low levels of financial confidence (47% vs 28%), have no savings (38% vs 22%), find it a constant struggle to pay bills (30% vs 13%) and to owe money on a higher number of credit cards (11% vs 7%). Reflecting the impact of the cost of living crisis, disabled households were more likely to have received financial help from friends and family (15% vs 7% non-disabled households), borrowed for living expenses from formal lenders (19% vs 14%), pawned or sold possessions (9% vs 5%) or borrowed from illegal lenders (1.5% vs 0.6%). 

At all ages, disabled households are more likely to be in serious financial difficulty. Over a quarter (29%) of disabled households are in ‘serious financial difficulty’, compared with 13% of non-disabled households, meaning disabled households are more than twice as likely to be in serious difficulty. For 60-69 year olds, those in a disabled household were four times as likely to be in difficulty (21% vs 5%). Overall, one-in-three households (34%) in serious difficulty have a disabled householder. 

The rising cost of living is disproportionately impacting disabled households. Disabled households have taken more steps to reduce their energy usage in 2022 and have seen greater negative impacts on their quality of life. Nearly half of disabled households (48%) have struggled to keep their home warm and comfortable at some point this year, while 43% have eaten lower quality food than usual. 

Debt advisers may be running out of ways to help disabled (and other) households. Only 21% of advice-seeking disabled households in financial difficulty received all the help or information they needed about their finances, compared with 29% of non-disabled households in difficulty. Where low incomes meet high essential spending, there may be limits to what advisers can do to help.

About the research

The findings are based on responses from 5,716 UK households about their income, payment of bills, borrowing, debt, savings and ability to pay for other essentials such as food. Our focus is on the 18% of households (1,047) where someone is disabled. A team from the University of Bristol analysed the respondent data collected from YouGov’s panel and produced these findings. 

About the tracker

abrdn Financial Fairness Trust has commissioned YouGov to conduct a periodic cross-sectional tracker survey on the financial situation of UK households since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020. Using data from the sixth wave of abrdn Financial Fairness Trust’s Coronavirus Financial Impact Tracker survey – conducted in May-June 2022 in the midst of the cost of living crisis – this briefing paper explores the financial wellbeing of UK households where someone is disabled.