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Disabled people's costs of living

An investigation of the additional needs and associated financial costs of disability from the perspective of disabled people themselves.

Written by:
Noel Smith, Sue Middleton, Kate Ashton-Brooks, Lynne Cox and Barbara Dobson with Lorna Reith
Date published:

While it has long been acknowledged that disabled people face additional costs to meet their needs, there has been no clear evidence of the true extent of these.

In this study, the research used a rigorous consensual standard methodology to develop budgets based on needs. The authors review disabled people's incomes, employment, benefits and other services in order to provide a context for the budget standards.

Using five case studies of disabled people of working age with physical or sensory impairments and a range of levels of need, they then draw up and explain the detail of their budget standards. They conclude with an overview of these standards, and discuss the implications of their findings. The analysis identifies a wide range of additional costs, and finds that benefits fall significantly short of the budgets required by disabled people to ensure an acceptable, equitable quality of life.


It is well known that disabled people face additional costs to enable them to meet their needs. However, there has been no clear evidence about the true extent of these costs. This research, conducted by the Centre for Research in Social Policy with the support of Disability Alliance, presents budget standards for groups of disabled people who have different needs arising from physical or sensory impairments. The budget standards represent the amounts disabled people (of working age) require in order to cover the costs of an acceptable and equitable quality of life. They were developed by disabled people themselves, through a series of rigorously conducted focus groups. The budgets were not based on 'wish lists'. Rather, they represent the minimum essential resources necessary to meet disabled people's needs, to enable them to achieve, as far as possible, a 'level playing field' with non-disabled people. They were arrived at through debate and negotiation within the focus groups. The research found that:

  • Disabled people experience additional costs in most areas of everyday life, from major expenditure on equipment essential for independence, to ongoing higher expenses for, for example, food, clothing, utilities and recreation.
  • The weekly budget standards required for disabled people are as follows:

- £1,513 for a person with high-medium mobility and personal support needs;
- £448 for a person with intermittent or fluctuating needs (i.e. from relatively negligible needs to higher needs);
- £389 for a person with low-medium needs;
- £1,336 for a person with needs arising from hearing impairment;
- £632 for a person with needs arising from visual impairment.

  • Deaf people face particularly high costs due to their need for interpreter/communicator services.
  • The weekly income of disabled people who are solely dependent on benefits is approximately £200 below the amount required for them to ensure an acceptable, equitable quality of life.
  • Unmet weekly costs for disabled people who work 20 hours per week at the minimum wage are up to £189 (for those with high-medium needs).


Disabled people have a disproportionate risk of being poor, i.e. of having an income below 60 per cent of the national median average. Department for Work and Pensions statistics for 2002-03 showed that 29 per cent of households with disabled people were poor, compared with 17 per cent of households without disabled people. However, these statistics underestimate the true extent of poverty among disabled people because they are based solely on income (including disability benefits), and do not take into account the additional costs disabled people may incur because of their disabilities.

Lack of information about disabled people's living costs mean that levels of nationally provided financial benefits and local services are determined using limited evidence. Certain state benefits are meant to offset, at least partially, the additional costs associated with disability, but the extent to which these benefits meet additional needs and costs is unknown.

The purpose of this study was to investigate the additional needs and associated financial costs of disability from the perspective of disabled people themselves. Rather than focusing on what disabled people spend, the research investigated what disabled people need in order to be on a 'level playing field' with non-disabled people. Participants were allocated to different groups, based on the type and degree of their disability, and they prepared in advance for group meetings. This ensured that the full extent of additional costs was explored.


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