Disabled women and the cost of living crisis

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2023 National Women's Conference
13 October 2022

Conferences notes the cost of living crisis which will disproportionately impact disabled women.

Even before the pandemic, disability related expenses or the ‘disability price tag’ was on average £583 extra per month compared to non-disabled people, according to the 2019 Scope Disability Price Tag report. One in five faced extra costs of more than a £1000. Over a half of disabled adults worried about how they would afford to pay their bills. These figures are likely to be much higher now given the rate of inflation.

More than a decade of Conservative cuts to Local Government funding have also led to increased social care charges for disabled women.

This alongside the current cost of living crisis, with food and petrol prices trebled, frozen tax allowances and massive fuel bill rises, means that most people will suffer, but disabled women even more so.

Disabled women’s income has fallen in real terms and benefits payments, including in work benefits many low paid disabled women rely on to make ends meet, have failed to keep up with rocketing inflation. Universal credit can increase disabled women’s financial dependency and Personal Independence Payments (PIP) do not adequately cover the cost of disability, while very few people qualify for the higher rate.

Disabled women and girls experience double discrimination on account of their gender and impairments. Disabled women are less likely to be in employment compared to disabled men and or non-disabled people. For those women in employment and for those with certain impairments, the disability pay gap can be as large as 18.95%.

Disabled women can also be targeted for particular kinds of abuse where their finances are controlled by others or where they cannot leave an abusive relationship due to economic dependency, and the cost of living crisis leaves these women in a particularly difficult situation.

Although government has bowed to pressure and given disabled people £150 to help address energy costs, at the same time they have ended the warm homes discount for disabled people, leaving disabled women in a worse situation overall.

Many disabled women rely on energy not just for heating but for powering specialist lifesaving equipment such as oxygen machines, or equipment vital to achieving independence such as electric wheelchairs. These are unavoidable costs that can’t be cut back so disabled people’s bills will inevitably increase more than others, along with their social isolation. This will not just mean a choice of heating and eating but, for some, breathing.

Some disabled women have impairments that are impacted by cold and need to spend more on heating their homes to avoid pain – they are therefore doubly susceptible to increases in energy prices. Additionally, there has been a big increase in disabled women working from home or hybrid working since the pandemic. Many of these women will have reasonable adjustments at home, such as assistive technology or additional devices which require frequent charging and add a “cost of disability” to their already increasing utility bills.

A report from Leonard Cheshire released in April 2022 found that:

a)55% of disabled people feel anxious, depressed, or hopeless due to the financial difficulties they are experiencing

b)Around a quarter had missed meals (25%) or not heated their homes (28%), while around a third (30%) had to ask for financial help from friends or family.

c)A third of those surveyed said they have £50 or less to live on a week.

Conference further notes this research found that over half million disabled people (7%) are already living off just £10 a week after bills. It is just not acceptable for the sixth richest economy in the world to subject people to such poverty living.

Conference notes that women face additional costs due to their experience of menstruation and this is exacerbated by the cost of living crisis. Experiences of menstruation are not homogeneous, with evidence showing that discrimination experienced by disabled women is compounded during menstruation. Research has found that period poverty and lack of access to period products can also negatively affect mental health.

Conference believes that disabled women are being pushed even deeper into poverty. The impact will have a resounding effect on women and their children for years to come

Conference therefore instructs the National Women’s Committee to work with the National Disabled Members Committee to:

1)Raise awareness of the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on disabled women across the union and seek ways to ensure that these issues are highlighted as part of UNISON’s national campaigning on the issue

2)Lobby the Labour Party, via the Labour Link, to commit to the reform of Universal Credit so that it does not undermine women’s financial independence, and to the reform of PIP to accurately capture the extra costs of being disabled and to help disabled women to live independently

3)Continue to campaign to end the Gender Pay Gap and join calls for mandatory publication of the disability pay gap

4)Promote the Disability Employment Charter as a way of improving disabled women workers’ income through better access to reasonable adjustments, Access to Work support and supporting disabled women into good quality employment