People with sight loss can face at least 25% higher costs for everyday living than those who are fully sighted, according to a new study1 released by the sight loss charity Thomas Pocklington Trust2. For the first time, the methods used to calculate Minimum Income Standards (MIS) were applied to the living costs of people with disabilities. The research looked at sight loss and hearing loss and showed clearly that both impairments lead to substantial extra costs if a minimum acceptable standard of living is to be reached.
"This is the first time specific Minimum Income Standards have been calculated for people with disabilities," says Katherine Hill, senior researcher at the Centre for Research in Social Policy (CRSP), Loughborough University, who led the research. "We know that living with a disability can be expensive. This research shows that the extra costs incurred can be quantified - an important step if support systems are to meet disabled people's needs. The study identifies costs that make life a quarter more expensive for someone with a level of visual impairment that would qualify them to be certified as sight impaired, compared with costs for a sighted person."
The study, 'Disability and minimum living standards: The additional costs of living for people who are sight impaired and people who are Deaf' was carried out by researchers at the CRSP, Loughborough University and University Campus Suffolk. The costs were calculated using the same methods used for national Minimum Income Standards3 - ie. groups of members of the public, in this case people living with sight loss or hearing loss, were asked to list all the things required for a minimum living standard4.
The study found that even when people have some vision, sight loss affects so many aspects of life that a range of extra costs are incurred, generating substantial increases. Between them these add over £50 to the weekly budget currently accepted as the Minimum Income Standard for a sighted adult, which is almost £199.
The additional costs were to pay for things such as physical aids, as well as more general aspects of living, including the need to have opportunities to participate in society and maintain independence.
Extra costs included:
- Technology (25% of extra cost): such as a higher spec, more accessible mobile phone, larger computer screens and specialist software, and TVs with talking menus. Such tools are essential for communication, access to written materials and to make best use of the sight that people have.
- Domestic help (25%): Having a cleaner, even once a fortnight, can help to keep homes clean and looking good - important for a person's self-esteem.
- Transport (13%): Taxis may be needed when attending medical appointments where eye drops are administered. Additional travel may also be required to get to appointments which can be long distances away, and to reach events specifically for people with sight loss. Transport subsidies can reduce travel costs but are not universally available and can be limited to off-peak travel.
- Social activities (10%) and holidays (8%): As people with sight loss often rely on friends to help them to travel or take part in activities, being able to reciprocate - with a drink or meal - was seen as very important. If specialist accommodation is needed, holidays can be expensive.
- Household goods (10%): Some items may need adapting to be sight-loss friendly eg. more and brighter lighting; laminate floors and leather upholstery which are easier to clean; specialised kitchen and bathroom items that are easy to maintain and safe. A handyperson might also be needed for DIY jobs that require sight.
- Health care (6%): Sight loss can lead to extra prescription costs, eg for eye drops, complex prescription spectacles, extra pairs of spectacles or more frequent changes to prescriptions.
- Electricity (3%): Higher costs can result from the need for more lighting, which may be required for longer periods, and from using technological items.
The study clearly shows that the cost of living is substantially more expensive as a result of sight loss. However, it notes that the current benefits system of providing Personal Independence Payments (PIPs) may not take all of these costs into account.
Some of the most substantial needs - most notably the need for a cleaner and the cost of recognising the contributions made by other people in order to be able to attend holidays, social activities and appointments - are not recognised at all in the PIP assessment and, says the report, "there is a high risk of needs going unmet or only very partially met under the PIP system".
Pamela Lacy, Research and Dissemination Manager of Thomas Pocklington Trust says: "Understanding the true cost of sight loss is crucial if support systems are going to prevent people from having to live in undue hardship. The evidence in this new study is an important first step. We hope it will help in the development of a fairer system which fully takes on board the true costs of sight loss."