Our previous study for Thomas Pocklington Trust began to look at the extra costs of living at a minimum acceptable standard for people with sight loss. It showed how for people of working age, being sight impaired adds around £49 to a minimum weekly budget. This result was for the case of someone eligible to be certified as sight impaired, but not at a severe level – people with some usable sight. We’ve now published a follow-on study looking at two things that can make the cost greater. One is if you have little or no sight: a sight impairment rated as ’severe’. The other is if you’re sight impaired as a pensioner. These variations are important because vision impairment covers a broad spectrum of sight loss, and the likelihood of sight loss increases as we get older – 1 in 5 people aged 75 and over are living with sight loss.
Like the first study, this research used our Minimum Income Standard (MIS) to look at different groups’ minimum living costs, by talking to members of these groups about what you need for a minimum acceptable standard of living. This means more than just having enough for basic survival as it includes what you need to be able to participate in society, although is still based on needs, not wants or luxuries – and what needs to be different because someone is vision impaired.
We found that the severity of sight loss makes a large difference to the additional costs. Severe sight impairment brings £116 extra per week for a working age person, more than twice the £49 in the previous study. Age also makes a difference – someone of pension age who is sight impaired faces an extra £75 cost per week, around 50 per cent more than someone of working age with the same level of impairment.
Looking behind these figures, there were similarities and differences in why severity of impairment or being older increases the additional costs of living with sight loss. In several of the most costly budget areas there were common reasons such as paying more for help in the home to cover ‘deep’ cleaning, larger tasks and odd jobs on top of the basic two hours a fortnight cleaning included by working age sight impaired groups. The greater degree of sight loss meant people could not see to do some of these tasks themselves, whereas for older groups it was deteriorating sight combined with less mobility that made these jobs harder to manage. Another common addition was a larger budget for taxis for practical and confidence reasons – affected by both degree of impairment and age making using the bus harder, for example at night, busy times and on unfamiliar routes, and walking more difficult, especially if carrying things or going somewhere new.
There were also differences in additional needs and costs. This was most obvious in the additional cost of technology. Sight-impaired pensioners only included half the additional cost of those of working age, whereas having severe sight impairment at working age increased the additional cost of technology by nearly half. For working age people, less sight meant more reliance and heavier use of higher quality mobile phones and computers, with such technology being used in a more wide ranging way than by pension age groups – for communication, finding out information, entertainment and with mobile apps for scanning, magnifying and route finding. The additional costs of social activities increased most for working age severely sight impaired people, to allow for more or specialist activities to cover the greater risk of isolation for someone with little or no sight. Isolation is also very relevant to pension age people who have acquired sight loss later in life: they emphasised the emotional stress of becoming sight impaired. In order to access information and support from sight loss organisations, they incur additional transport costs. This research is therefore proving valuable not just for pointing out that different disabled people’s costs vary greatly (which is self-evident) but also for estimating the size of these differences. Moreover, this methodology provides a qualitative backdrop to the costs and how they are made up. This is important as it highlights how a lot of the costs are for things that might not be obvious. As with the first study, what came out of this research is that some of the things that people who are vision impaired agreed as being important are about more than just aids or equipment that directly addresses their sight loss. Ranging from the additional cost of socialising to keeping your home neat and tidy, they represent the cost of being part of society.