2. Cost of Living
2.1 Housing costs
Indicator 12: Housing affordability
Low-income disabled families spent on average 21% of their net household income on housing, in 2017-20. This was the same for low-income families overall.
Source: Family Resources Survey
Disabled people are more likely than non-disabled people to live in social rented housing. Satisfaction with their housing arrangements was lower (85%) than amongst non-disabled people (93%) in 2019. Difficulties in accessing housing that meets their needs can result in some families with a disabled member spending more on housing and/or having a lower quality of life.
2.2 Other costs of living
Indicator 13: Fuel affordability
Low-income households with children and at least one household member with a long-term health condition are estimated on average to have spent 18% of their net household income (after housing costs) on fuel in 2019. For low-income families where no-one had a long-term condition, this figure was 13%. Due to small sample sizes this difference is not statistically significant, however we know that overall households in Scotland where someone has a long-term condition are more likely to be fuel poor than those where no-one does (31% compared to 20% in 2019).
Source: Scottish House Condition Survey 
Indicator 14: Food affordability
Low-income UK households with children spent around 16% of their income on food and non-alcoholic drinks in 2016/17 to 2018/19, regardless of whether or not the (adult) reference person in the household was disabled. This compares to around 12% for all households with a child and where the reference adult was disabled (across all incomes), and 10% for all households with a child and where the reference adult was not disabled.
Source: Living Costs and Food Survey
It is generally recognised that disabled people face higher costs of living than non-disabled people. These additional costs may include, for example, specialist equipment and home adaptations, specialist therapies, extra transport costs, specialists toys and play equipment, paid-for care and increased energy costs, either as a result of increased heating for those with limited mobility or the cost of running specialist electrical equipment. There are also reports that costs have risen for many disabled people during the pandemic.
Many of the parents we spoke to reported extra costs as a result of themselves or another family member being disabled:
"Yes definitely, extra costs in food, bedding, towelling, electricity because the wee one wets the bed still so she's constantly in and out the shower, I have to replace the sheets and mattresses, she has violent tendencies as well so we've bought furniture for the bedroom four times since she was born and she's eight."
In addition to disability benefits (see Section 3), there are other support services which help to reduce costs of living for low-income disabled families (and others). These include school clothing grants, free school meals beyond the universal entitlement, council tax exemptions and reductions and specific support offered during the pandemic. Interview participants reported some positive experiences of these forms of support.
"They are really good. Especially to get help with school clothes. That can be a huge [cost] for me. Every year to get school clothes and everything needed for a new year. And for school meals I don't need to fork out money for it. Yeah they are great, really good."
However, among some people there was a sense of guilt and of not wanting to take the option of services away from other families who may need it more.
"It's fantastic [the COVID support I received] but I feel guilty about receiving it as some people need it more than me. I didn't need that… I know of other people who didn't need it. I'm grateful to have it, but didn't need it. I felt a wee bit guilty."
With regards to Free School Meals, many parents felt that what was on offer was insufficient for their children, particularly when they had dietary needs.
"He's coming home hungry and I think it's ridiculous that there's not any other options so he cannae pick something else if he doesn't like what's there for him."
"I give her a packed lunch as there's not anything on the menu she can eat… there's not a menu for lactose intolerance."
"The quality and quantity of the meals is problematic… as the children get older, they aren't getting an increased portion… There's no kitchen in the school so the food is brought in from another school so the quality is diminished… The catering contract is poor and the supplier is trying to make profit margins at the expense of children. The government is providing something but it's not sufficient."
Indicator 15: Unmanageable debt
One in twenty (4.9%) households with children and a disabled member were in unmanageable debt in Scotland, as of 2016-18. The proportion was similar for all households with children, regardless of whether or not they included a disabled person (4.5%). These proportions have decreased substantially over time, and particularly for households with a disabled member – down from 20.5% in 2010-12.
Source: Wealth and Assets Survey
Although pre-pandemic data shows that levels of unmanageable debt were falling for disabled families, various research has found that they risk being disproportionately exposed to negative financial impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic. Financial worries can have negative impacts including physical or mental health problems, sleep disturbance and relationship issues.
2.4 Enablers (access to affordable credit, internet access, assets and savings)
Savings and access to affordable credit can protect against material deprivation and problem debt. They act as a buffer against unexpected costs and fluctuations in income.
Indicator 16: Access to affordable credit
As of 2017-19, high-cost credit had been used in the previous 12 months by:
- 14% of all households with children
- 14% of low-income households with children
- 18% of households with children and where someone in the family has a long-term health condition.
Source: Scottish Household Survey
Indicator 17: No savings
The proportion of households with children that had no savings, as of 2017-19, was:
- 34% for all households with children
- 66% for low-income households with children
- 45% for households with children where someone had a long-term health condition.
Source: Scottish Household Survey
Digital access has become increasingly important in accessing vital services including healthcare, social services and education during the pandemic. But also in general terms to access important information on benefits and application processes.
Indicator 18: Internet access
Those with a long-standing physical or mental health condition are less likely to use the internet in Scotland (although not all of these people will be disabled) and data at UK level shows that disabled adults are less likely to have used the internet recently (81% vs 96% of non-disabled adults, 2020).
Source: Scottish Household Survey & Internet Users UK (ONS)