The high cost of living is imposing devastating decisions on countless households around the country, but none more so than families living with disabilities. According to charity Scope, almost a quarter of families with a disabled child faced additional costs of more than £1,000 per month before the financial crisis began to bite. Many households are affected by additional energy use as a result of an impairment or condition, while inflation has seen a drastic, real-terms cut to the value of disability benefits.
Now, as many think ahead to holidays, many disabled people are abandoning plans for activity breaks, to the detriment of their physical and mental health. It is children who are suffering the most.
Laura Jolliffe from Preston says her daughter Ava greatly benefits from outdoor activities at Calvert Lakes, an activity centre near Keswick that offers accessible adventures, such as canoeing on Bassenthwaite Lake, indoor climbing, cycle and bushcraft, as well as weekends dedicated to visitors with autism, cerebral palsy and Down’s syndrome.
Jolliffe is worried about the impact of not being able to visit the centre: “Being disabled, with limitations, is already frustrating and stressful. Access to recreation is a must to prevent disability fatigue.” She adds that the high cost of fuel is one of an “overwhelming number of increases to our family budget” and that activities are “one of the first things to be cut.”
Recent research by Calvert Lakes has shown that more than half of disabled people will forsake outdoor activity breaks this year due to financial concerns. 93 per cent believe this will impact on their physical health, and almost the same number on their mental health. Its survey is backed up by Scope, which has similarly found that two thirds of parents and carers have cut back or stopped family day trips or activities.
Sean Day, the Lake District Calvert Trust’s Centre Director says the research is “extremely alarming”, primarily because “for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities, outdoor physical activity has a fundamental role in their development.”
The centre offers subsidies to visitors who cannot meet the full financial cost of a break. However, these bursaries are coming under increasing pressure, with demand “higher than ever”, not just from individuals and families but also schools.
Opportunities for the disadvantaged
One such school is New Bridge School in Oldham, Lancashire, whose teenage students often access very little outside their home environment. A welcome exception is the activity breaks at Calvert Lakes, which they have enjoyed for more than a decade.
Gavin Taylor, the school’s Duke of Edinburgh manager underscores the importance of Calvert’s breaks: “our learning centre services students from Oldham, where levels of deprivation are among the highest in England. [For] many of our students, residential experiences such as this are simply unaffordable.” The bursaries provide a vital means of affordability… and stays allow students to become more independent and have access to new and exciting experiences.
Scope’s head of communications, Alison Kerry, says that the Government should be “doing everything it can” to support families being able to access activity breaks. “One of the ways it can ease the pressure of finances is to introduce a [discounted] social energy tariff for disabled people.”
Polling by Sense, a charity for people with complex disabilities, found that fewer than one in five family carers of a disabled person had any break from caring in 2022 – a number that is likely to worsen as cost-of-living pressures intensify.
The charity’s chief executive Richard Kramer told i, “with over half of disabled households in debt, we would like to see significantly more Government support for disabled people, including investment in activities and other forms of short breaks, so that they can thrive rather than barely survive.”