The high cost of living with a disability

June 24, 2015     Leave a Comment

Laura Welti, Manager of Bristol Disability Equality Forum, gives a timely reminder of the original purpose of unemployment-related benefits for Disabled people

The Welfare Conditionality Project’s recent blog and briefing on disability raised interesting points. But in discussing the higher value of unemployment-related benefits for Disabled people, we also need to return to the original purpose. Only then can we address the issues raised by recent benefit changes.

The original point of paying additional sums to Disabled people on various benefits was not one of paternalistic ‘compensation’ simply for the fact that an individual was not able to work: it was based (like other disability-related benefits) on an acknowledgement that life is more expensive because one is a Disabled person.  For this reason any argument put forward by successive governments to justify the changes has lacked a fundamental logic: one’s cost of living doesn’t change just because you are put in the Work Related Activity Group of Employment and Support Allowance instead of the Support Group – or on to Jobseeker’s Allowance for that matter.

Consequently, the removal/reconfiguration of welfare ‘disability premiums’ has been effectively to discriminate against Disabled people – leaving them, as it does, worse off than non-Disabled people in the same position.  Equally, to ‘sanction’ Disabled people in the same way is also to levy a tougher sanction on them than on non-Disabled people being sanctioned.

To give a partly – but not entirely – theoretical example, I invite you to consider the case study below.

Person A is a single, Disabled person, living alone. They require an electric wheelchair to mobilise and, because their impairments/medication  mean they are not permitted to drive, they need a powerchair that can cope with being their sole means of transport around the town/city in which they live. Consequently, they require a high-end robust ’chair which, even then, is very unlikely to survive more than five years of reliable service. Reliance on others (even if they wouldn’t object to such enforced dependency) is not an option because they live alone and have no family within reasonable travel distance. They also have limited use of their arms/hands in terms of performing tasks, and are incontinent.

Their additional daily living costs, purely due to their impairments, are as follows:

1 x wheelchair with motors powerful enough to travel 5-10miles a day = £12,000 new
(No NHS voucher reducing the cost because NHS consider this type of chair ‘recreational’ so an individual cannot use any voucher they might otherwise be entitled to. Given that the ’chair won’t last more than five years as a primary vehicle they will therefore need to save 20% of the cost of a new chair per annum.) = equivalent to £2,400 pa

Insurance (legal requirement) = £300 pa

New tyres every 10 months = £144-£180 pa

New batteries every two years = £170 x 2 plus mobility centre mark up and fitting £30 pa (though likely to be much higher, in reality) = equivalent to £200+ pa

Service annually (minimum requirement of insurer) = £70+ pa

Other replacement parts due to wear and tear or damage (anything from broken light or puncture through to replacement handset) = £1500 over 3yrs = equiv. £500 pa

Heating – +10% due to physical inactivity resulting in need for higher ambient temperature in winter
= £120 pa

Assistive equipment due to mobility &/or limited arm/hand use, eg, kettle tipper, grabber, sock/stocking aid, shoe horn etc = £50 pa

Replacement clothing due to using dressing aids/staining/frequent laundering (eg, due to continence ‘accidents’) = £30 pa

Incontinence pads (because NHS ones really are not fit for purpose) – 2 per day x 365days @£2.50 for 10 = £182.50 pa.

Therefore, even taking the lowest prices on the above items (because these are the ‘bought direct’ prices rather than from mobility shops with their huge mark-ups), such an individual would have to pay at least £4,000 per annum, in additional costs. That’s even when excluding related costs such as accessible taxis, personal support, etc, that other benefits such as Disability Living Allowance and Direct Payments are deemed to be for.

If you think it reasonable that a Disabled person be able to visit friends and family occasionally or have a week’s holiday in the year then you can add a further £700-£1500 to the annual cost. That’s for a five-star hotel/apartment because they are the only ones that are fully accessible, and staying over in a hotel if you visit friends or family for the weekend because their homes are very unlikely to be accessible. Cheap shops, cafes and so on are unlikely to be accessible either.

On top of all that, there’s the level of charging that is now levied from individuals towards their own social care. A classic example is of Disabled people having to pay the service and repair contracts for all sorts of access equipment (stairlifts, adapted loos, automatic doors, step lifts) once the extended warranty has expired.  In 2004 local authorities were funding all of that. This is considerable cost: around £150-200 a year per piece of equipment, as in most cases the contract is with the company that originally supplied and/or fitted it.  This often means there aren’t the economies of scale to be had if you were paying a single company (like an insurance company) for a policy covering all your equipment.

These costs may sound inflated but really aren’t and, though there is little research on the topic, it does chime with the findings of some Joseph Rowntree Foundation/London School of Economics research in 2003-4 that, on average, it is 25% more expensive for a Disabled person to have the same living standard as their non-Disabled neighbours. It is worth noting that since that time income has dropped and prices have risen – especially high cost types of expenditure such as energy and broadband costs. We have also seen the introduction of punitive sanctions such as the over-occupancy charge (‘bedroom tax’) for those who require a second bedroom for their impairment-related equipment, or a larger property so that the floor space is enough to turn a wheelchair.

What is important about these figures is not just that they demonstrate how being a moderately Disabled person is very pricey, but that the costs remain whether you are employed or unemployed, on JSA, ESA WRAG or ESA Support.  Indeed, being employed is potentially cheaper because, for example, one could apply to Access to Work to mitigate the annual cost of the wheelchair,.

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