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The impacts of the cost-of-living crisis on disabled people

Calendar icon Inequalities, Poverty

Folder icon Jan 2023 - Ongoing

Since 2021, the extraordinary surge in prices for basic commodities such as food, clothing, and energy has created a cost-of-living crisis, the impacts of which are severe for the most vulnerable members of society, creating an unfolding social catastrophe.  

The purpose of this project was to present a rapid examination of the impacts of the current cost-of-living crisis on the lives, health, and wellbeing of disabled people. The project incorporates the views of disabled people living in Glasgow and a scoping review of emergent evidence from across the UK regarding the impacts of the current crisis. 

Understanding the impacts of the cost-of-living crisis on disabled people is a priority and is vital in forming competent crisis policy and practice responses. Essential to this is hearing from disabled people in order that they can convey their direct experiences of the crisis. 

objectives icon Project objectives

  • To enable a rapid examination of the cost-of-living crisis on their lives, health, and wellbeing
  • To contextualise the findings of the focus groups within wider evidence from across the UK

involved icon What is involved

Focus group discussions

Two focus group discussions (n = 9, n = 8) were conducted, in order to explore the views of disabled people as to how the current cost-of-living crisis had impacted on their lives, health, and wellbeing. Participants were of a wide age range and were male, female, and transgender; those with chronic conditions, sensory-impaired, intellectually impaired and wheelchair users with mobility issues were all represented.  

The focus group schedule was developed initially by the GCPH and then refined by GDA in order to support ease of comprehension and discussion among participants. The following questions were used as discussion prompts during the focus groups, with support from GDA support staff:  

  • What are your biggest worries about the cost-of-living crisis right now?  
  • How does the cost-of-living crisis impact on your daily life?  
  • Do you think things have gotten worse since the pandemic? (give examples)  
  • Has the cost-of-living crisis impacted on your mental health and wellbeing? 
  • Has the cost-of-living crisis impacted on your physical health?  
  • What has helped you cope?  
  • Have you been able to access any cost-of-living supports from the UK or Scottish Governments?  
  • Do you think your care has been affected by the cost-of-living crisis?  
  • What needs to be done to support you better in your daily life? 

Evidence scoping review

The evidence review is based on the scoping framework developed by Levac, Colquhoun and O’Brien and incorporates the following five key characteristics:  

  1. to identify the types of available evidence in a given field  
  2. to clarify key concepts/definitions in the literature  
  3. to examine how research is conducted on a certain topic or field  
  4. to identify key characteristics or factors related to key concepts  
  5. to identify and analyse knowledge gaps 

The review is limited to UK studies and perspectives published since the crisis began in 2021. Our scoping review considered the content of 18 publications in detail. The greatest insights and inclusion of the direct experience of disabled people were to be found in grey literature publications including reports, briefings, and blogs; primarily, those of disability charities among others. By contrast, we have found there to be a lack of peer-reviewed, primary research publications which specifically engage disabled people in the examination of the impacts of the current cost-of-living crisis on their lives, health, and wellbeing. 

Cost of living impact on disabled people

findings icon Findings & outcomes

The disabled people who took part in the focus groups describe the devastating impacts of the current crisis on their lives. The crisis has worsened poverty and financial insecurity, meaning that participants are unable to afford a healthy life. Several participants report being unable to heat their homes over winter and going hungry or eating a nutritionally deficient diet. Focus group participants describe these circumstances as being utterly corrosive to mental health and wellbeing, particularly stress levels. Furthermore, going hungry and being cold directly compromises the management of participants’ health conditions, disrupting medication routines and worsening symptoms, including pain management.  

The deepening levels of poverty described by participants also mean that there is significantly less opportunity to undertake hobbies and pastimes, to socialise or to participate in their community, which further erodes mental health.  

The evidence reviewed in the scoping exercise, primarily within grey literature, broadly echoes the key points made by the participants. This included that the crisis is increasing levels of poverty and financial insecurity for disabled people, particularly food and fuel poverty. The conditions created by the crisis are corrosive to mental health, particularly increasing stress levels and social isolation. The current crisis also affects physical health, worsening symptoms and compromising health conditions. The adverse impacts outlined are hugely concerning, demanding immediate and disability-prioritised policy and practice responses.  

Although a focus on mitigating the impacts of the crisis is vital, it must also consider the wider historical context of vulnerability experienced by disabled populations, specifically the disproportionate impacts of over a decade of UK austerity policies and the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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