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Activity and the cost of living crisis

In this story, Javier from Moving Social Work considers the impact that the cost of living crisis has had and will have on Disabled people’s chances to stay active.

Reading Level: Advanced
Reading Time: 4 minutes
Created with Moving Social Work collective

There are 14.6 million Disabled people in the UK. Among them, 61% are motivated to lead an active lifestyle. Despite this fact, Disabled people do less physical activity (PA) than they want to do and are twice as likely to be inactive than non-disabled people. Why? The answer is complex, but at the same time, it is obvious: they cannot afford to be active.

Disability and the cost of living crisis

Years of austerity politics have left so many Disabled people living in poverty and severely exposed to the rising cost of essentials. Today, more than a third of Disabled adults report being unable to afford basic items, and 41% cannot keep their homes warm, compared with 23% of the non-disabled population.

With energy prices rising again in April, the situation could get unbearable for people like Peter, a Disabled man living alone in the north-east of England. “My universal credit award is £970 a month. My rent is £550. What are people in my situation supposed to do? I’m already sitting in the dark most of the time with the heating off. I don’t know how I’m going to get through this winter with my mental health intact”, he said.

People with severe impairments and chronic health conditions are especially affected by soaring energy bills because they need to run energy-intensive electrical medical aids and equipment. Some people, for example, need ventilators to be able to breathe. These people are cancelling trips to hospital appointments, switching the heating off, and going for days without showering so that they can keep their life-saving equipment turned on. In extreme cases, they are forced to choose between eating or breathing.

How is physical activity affected?

In a cost of living questionnaire filled in by over 7,000 people, it was found that 55% of respondents were less active due to energy problems. For instance, some said that they could no longer always charge electrically powered wheelchairs that enabled them to go out or afford aquatherapy and swimming passes that helped them manage chronic pain.

It is not rocket science: the less money you have, the less active you can be. Insight from Sport England showed that Disabled people from lower socioeconomic groups are less likely to be physically active than Disabled people from higher socioeconomic groups (43% vs 29%).

If a person’s basic human needs cannot be met, it is only natural that this person doesn’t prioritise physical activity. There are no realistic physical activity (PA) goals that count when a person is living in poverty. As George Orwell said, “poverty annihilates the future”.

Over decades, research has shown how important PA is for the future of Disabled people and public health. When Disabled people are not given the chance to be active, health and social inequalities widen. The risk of developing conditions increases, loneliness grows, and people lose purpose. In short, Disabled people cannot afford to give PA up.

What can be done to sustain PA levels?

Evidence-based, accessible information about how to stay active is now available for Disabled people. Likewise, Disabled people now trust a number of messenger groups that can share PA information. In the current context, however, sharing PA information with Disabled people, and tapping into their personal motivations to encourage them to move more, is not enough. To borrow from Professor Eldar Shafir, it can be “like teaching someone to swim and then throwing them in a stormy sea”.

Life jackets such as food banks and direct payments to vulnerable households are essential to keep Disabled people afloat when in risk of drowning. These are, however, means to get out of trouble temporarily, not genuine solutions.

There is only one genuine solution, which is to attack the underlying cause of inactivity: poverty and the violations of the human rights of Disabled people. But how? Once again, the answer is complex but at the same time, quite obvious: Tax the rich. End austerity. Basic income guarantee. Solidarity politics. Anti-ableist education.

Next Steps

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